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In this time of crisis, it’s right that the nation’s thoughts are with the NHS, social care and other front line institutions that are working tirelessly to protect our health. But we should also remember the wider base of essential industries and workers that are helping to keep the country running effectively and safely.
As one of the largest and most important industrial sites in the country, Wilton International is home to several operations that the government regards as essential. Many of their products and services are fundamental to modern life, including the key tasks of providing our health service with vital equipment and powering our homes and workplaces. These businesses are continuing to run through the crisis, with dedicated plant operators, maintenance teams and other personnel working as normal, while complying with new social distancing and hygiene rules.
With activities including energy generation, chemical manufacturing and logistics, the essential work undertaken at Wilton International is wide ranging. Here are just a few examples of the contributions currently being made by companies and workers on the site and in the wider Teesside industrial cluster.
Maintaining Energy Security
The UK’s energy providers have a responsibility to maintain reliable power supplies, and that includes Sembcorp Energy UK operating at Wilton International and more than 40 other locations throughout the UK. As well as serving essential industrial facilities on the Wilton International site, some of the power they generate goes into the National Grid, thereby helping to maintain the country’s power security. Sembcorp Energy UK’s ability to make emergency capacity available to the grid was demonstrated as recently as August 2019, when 600MW of additional power was delivered in response to power cuts. This flexibility contributes to what the UK’s Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth recently described as ‘One of the most secure energy systems in the world’ , addressing concerns about energy supply resilience during the coronavirus pandemic.
Delivering essential products and services
Some of the facilities at Wilton International are manufacturing products that are critical in supporting the fight against COVID-19 in a very direct way. Alpek Polyester UK Ltd are supplying 100% recyclable PET resin to sheet manufacturing companies including the Royal Mint, to produce face visors for the NHS. One Alpek customer, based in the North East, will be ramping production up to 90,000 visors per day after just 4 weeks, highlighting the importance of selecting recyclable PET material. Alpek’s PET can be found in a variety of other essential products, including flexible face masks and hand sanitiser bottles.¹
Other Wilton International operations supply products that are essential to our lives and economy, albeit with links to the national coronavirus effort that might be less obvious. SABIC’s Olefins 6 cracker produces ethylene and propylene – the root chemicals for the vast range of plastics and synthetic products used in modern life, including in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals sectors. As the second largest ethylene cracker in Europe, the national strategic importance of Olefins 6 is hard to overstate.2
Ensus’s Wilton International facility produces bioethanol, an additive for more sustainable fuel, and is the UK’s largest supplier of DDGS animal feed. The company’s third product, carbon dioxide, has applications across a wide range of sectors, including healthcare and food and drink. Huntsman Polyurethanes is another Wilton International-based business whose product supports our everyday lives in a variety of ways, including in the manufacture of essential medical devices.
An industry-wide effort
The companies based at Wilton International are part of a wider industrial cluster on Teesside, characterised by high levels of inter-dependency as well as national strategic importance. Middlesbrough-based BOC, a major supplier of industrial gases to the site, is currently playing a key role in providing the NHS with oxygen for use by ambulance crews and hospital staff across the UK. The company’s engineering teams have also installed oxygen storage and delivery systems to the new Nightingale hospital in London.3
And all the companies in the cluster are supported by the logistics sector, with businesses including PD Ports (Teesport) and the Tees freight terminal operators continuing to deliver essential products to their users.
Above all, our essential workers
So, as we think about all the vital services that are keeping the UK running at this difficult time, we should include the essential industries whose contributions might be less visible, but are fundamentally important nevertheless. And as those of us who can work from home, we should, above all, think about the key workers who are keeping our country running – in our NHS and care homes, but also in our essential industrial and logistics businesses.