Speech: We're voting Remain!
Tonight, the night before Britain's in/out referendum vote on EU membership, Rhian will be giving a speech at the Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead. You can read the speech in full below.
Pnawn da, good evening
You’ll have to excuse the tired eyes I’m sporting this evening / fydd rhaid I chi fadda I mi am edrych mor flinedig heno… I just got back from Toulouse, where I saw Wales do some pretty remarkable things in Europe… a trend that is hopefully going to continue away from the football world too!
I'm Rhian, and I work at a small food manufacturing company here on Ynys Mon, called Plas Farm. It’s a company that some of you might know from our coleslaw and ice cream, but the bulk of what we do these days is frozen yogurt.
I’m here tonight to tell you about the huge positive impact that EU membership has had on Plas Farm. It’s a company that started out on my Dad’s farm about 30 years’ ago, when he started to use the milk from his dairy cows to make chilled yogurt. He eventually gave up farming to concentrate on running Plas Farm as a food production company.
From the start there was EU funding available to help him grow. In those days it was mostly in the form of training grants, and marketing support, but as the business evolved, so did the EU support and funding available to us.
But the benefits of EU membership are far from being just financial. The single biggest factor in our ability to grow has been free trade within the European Union. I cannot state this any more clearly, but that Plas Farm has been able to grow from a company that employs 12 to a company that employs more than 30 in the space of 7 years, is almost entirely down to our partnerships with EU customers.
We had always traded with Ireland. Dublin is closer to us than London. But the year we decided to attend a trade exhibition in Germany – part funded by the Welsh Assembly with EU money – really changed our outlook. We haven’t looked back. Since then we’ve attended more than 10 EU-funded events, exhibitions and trade visits, in EU countries, and that has been the platform for our recent growth. It opened up our market from 60 million people here in the UK, to 500 million EU-wide. It has resulted in us being a company that exports 35% of what we do, and allowed us to double our revenue.
Having made significant strides in our sales, we were then faced with a capacity issue. We couldn’t keep up with the demand. Now that’s a nice problem to have, but it also required investment to keep up. The EU helped us there too. We applied for a Rural Development Fund grant, which funded 40% of our project to double our freezer capacity and warehouse space. We put everything we had into that project to fund that 60%, at a time when banks were not lending readily, and we simply wouldn’t have been able to complete the project without that EU grant. That single grant, for somewhere in the region of £40,000, has contributed 15 new jobs to the Anglesey economy. Jobs that would not exist if it was not for European money. This pot of money is there to help us. To help you. To help small and medium sized businesses in Anglesey. Plas Farm is living proof that it makes a difference.
Now of course the EU funding assisted us hugely, as has the ability to trade freely across national borders, but I think it’s important to note that trading across those borders would not be anywhere near as easy without the consistency in regulation that the EU provides.
Food additives, allergen labelling, ingredient and nutrition labelling, health claim requirements – all of these things are the same for all member states. That means that we don’t have to have different recipes for each different country, we don't have to have encyclopaedic knowledge of each country’s labelling requirements, we simply work to one single EU standard. People often make the argument that EU bureaucracy holds us back, but I challenge anyone to find me a simpler export system than within the EU. With China, for example, to took us two years to be approved for export, and even then there were hoops to jump through and piles of paperwork to be done.
At the highest level of the EU, there may well be bureaucracy, I don’t know, but if the result of that makes life easier for us, for small and medium businesses and for the citizens of the EU, then I say the end justifies the means.
Let me finally come to immigration. Do we employ EU migrants? Yes, a handful. They make up about 15% of the workforce. When you compare that to the 35% EU export sales, that’s a pretty good deal for the Anglesey economy. Not only that, they are long-serving employees. They are well-trained, they are intelligent, they are integrated into Plas Farm and into their communities.
Their lives are here, in Anglesey, and for some that’s been the case for a decade. Their partners are Anglesey people. Their children can speak Welsh, English and their mother tongue fluently! The EU nationals amongst us are not a drain on our economy. Quite the opposite. And the team at Plas Farm has learnt from them in the same way as they have learnt from us. Our EU team-members are vital parts of Plas Farm. They are good people and this whole referendum has been an insult to them.
For all the positive economic arguments for voting Remain, it’s important to remember that this is a people issue too. A vote for Remain is a vote for working together for a better future. It is a vote for learning from each other, it is a vote for living with each other despite our differences, it is a vote for tolerance and togetherness. A vote for Remain is a vote to say that we will be part of building a strong Europe, a better Europe, a Europe where Wales and Welsh business will thrive.