The announcement that Pfizer is to close its research site in Sandwich, Kent, with the loss of over 2,000 jobs, is bad news and a worry for all those who work there, as well as the local and national economy in general.
However, the ‘Taskforce’ assembled by Kent County Council, BIS and the new LEP must approach this news as an opportunity which doesn’t come often.
The withdrawal of Pfizer must be used as an opportunity for knowledge driven start-up and spin-off companies, set up by the scientists and researchers who are on site. They could really use the skills and ideas they have, but which can tend to get held back within a giant organisation. They could be the core of an expanded life sciences industry in Kent.
This will require the support and help of Government and its agencies, and I hope that they are also putting real pressure on Pfizer to put some meaningful money into the pot to help out.
If a company wanted to build a site the size of the Sandwich development it would be expected to pay towards some of the infrastructure required, such as roads, I think they also ought to be expected to pay for some of the costs of restructuring the local economy. It is not as if they can’t afford it, having spent $9 billion on share buybacks in the last two years.
So, if handled correctly, with skill, imagination and some money, this cloud could have a silver lining – but will it turn out that way?