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Neue Labour – Reflections on a visit to Germany

This article appeared in the October edition of the House Magazine.

“On 23 July I was one of a delegation of 14 MP’s who travelled out to Ludwigshafen, Germany with the Industry Parliament Trust to visit the world’s biggest Chemical plant, home to German Giant BASF.

As a fresh faced 22 year old working in the IT industry I had travelled there once before, and was left with the memory of the vastness of the plant and the fact that everyone seemed to cycle, but beyond that I couldn’t recall too much about what had set this corporate superpower apart from other households names that had struggled in the years since.

Armed with the benefit of a good deal more experience, I was keen to learn more about BASF’s take on the German industrial and economic performance and how progressives might transport those lessons into a British context.

Munitions 1It followed previous visits to Germany to learn about how their banking infrastructure had enabled German businesses to borrow through the banking crisis and how the Germans had transformed their energy requirements.

BASF employ around 110,000 people around the world, including 35,000 on the Ludwigshafen site. The town is basically a one company town in a way that no UK town, that I can think of, is.  And those jobs that exist outside of BASF seem to be to service the firm or its workers.

Following lunch in BASF’s own hotel (!) we had a bus tour around the huge plant, particularly focusing on the way that BASF generate their own energy. As the user of 1% of all Germany’s energy (equivalent to the German Railway), policy and cost is a very central issue to BASF, and a key factor in their global decision making. They clearly wanted to take the opportunity to present to UK politicians the case for a global level playing field on energy costs.

They confirmed that there was corporate recognition of the fact and the effects of global warming and an acceptance that it was anthropological, and expressed an interest in taking action internally and viewing renewable energy as a potential growth market for them, whilst also wanting action on CO2 emissions to be done in a way that is not economically disadvantageous to the West.

As the world’s largest chemical company, the low staff turnover at BASF is both a source of pride and a matter of necessity, whilst the company have shed large numbers of staff, their ethos is far closer to the ‘job for life’ that chemists & scientists in 1970’s Britain would have recognised.

Therefore, like many German firms BASF take a long term view on employee development, training and apprenticeships, and in return have a big return on that investment.

Despite their German heritage, they are very much a global player with sites across the World, and around 1,500 UK based employees.

The Industry Parliament Trust perform an important function in bringing business and parliament together and we all left with a greater appreciation of BASF’s role and challenges, and their view on the energy debate.

It also left me to reflect on the collaboration between government and industry in Germany and the long term nature of their economy and the lessons for us as we look to rebalance our economy in a more sustainable way.”

By Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Small Business Minister 

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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