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Mineral Products 2018 – MPA annual conference review

Sir Stephen O'Brien

Key industry conference addresses productivity and new technologies in mineral products industry

THE Mineral Products Association (MPA) held its members’ annual conference ‘Mineral Products 2018 – De-risking the Next 3 Years’ on Tuesday 5 June at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster.

The event, hosted by BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Justin Webb and themed ‘Improving Productivity… Embracing New Technologies’ attracted a packed audience of 200 high-level delegates from more than 106 companies and stakeholders.

In his opening address, MPA chairman Martin Riley, senior vice-president at Tarmac, confirmed that the outlook for 2018 looks ‘flattish’, but said that provided planned infrastructure spending and housing growth materializes in 2019, we should see an upswing in demand.

He expressed concern about the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which could further weaken an already compromised mineral planning system, whilst increasing constraints on the access to essential mineral resources, and he warned that the recently announced review of protected designations, such as National Parks and AONBs, may further constrain the industry’s ability to supply future demand.

Mr Riley also restated the MPA’s commitment to achieving ‘Zero Harm’ after setbacks in health and safety in 2017 that have galvanized a resetting of the industry agenda.

The Rt Hon. Sir Stephen O’Brien KBE, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, gave the keynote speech focusing on leadership, political risk and ending conflict, stating that ‘you can’t control the beta risk, the risks beyond your control, the political risks’.

Sir Stephen (pictured) acknowledged the strategic and essential role the mineral products industry plays in the economy and our way of life, and the need for greater recognition by policy-makers.

Sir Stephen, Professor Vernon Bogdanor from Kings College London and Anna Leach, head of economic intelligence at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), discussed the political and economic outlook over the coming years and the continuing uncertainties posed by Brexit and other world developments.

Rebecca Riley from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research/The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence, Andrew Sentance of Price Waterhouse Coopers and Daniel Thornton from the Institute for Government gave their insights into productivity and the reasons behind the ‘productivity gap’.

Professor Michael Wooldridge from the University of Oxford and Jackson Bond of relayr considered the future of automation. Prof. Wooldridge highlighted the skills and production methods that could benefit from Artificial Intelligence, and Mr Bond remarked: ‘You don’t know what you don’t know – you don’t know how much data is hidden in your machinery that could improve your productivity’.

Philip Moon of DAF Trucks joined them for a panel debate on automation and transport. There was consensus on the potential for a growing trend towards autonomous transport over time as the technology improves.

Professor Alistair Gibb from the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering at Loughborough University and Oliver Novakovic of Barratt Homes discussed off-site construction. Professor Gibb highlighted that ‘off site’ is nothing new and has been happening for 2,000 years, and that while there are clear market opportunities, it needs to be kept in perspective. ‘Off site could triple and still be a relatively small part of the construction industry,’ he said. Oliver Novakovic said the definition of ‘off site’ included a whole scope of activities and its development would vary from sector to sector.

Commenting on the event, Nigel Jackson, chief executive of the MPA, said: ‘This important conference brings together the industry and many of its key stakeholders once a year to look at the big picture economically and politically, and to address key current issues. We were once again fortunate to have such a high-calibre line-up of speakers and panellists to provoke and stimulate discussion.’

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