Tony Smith of Pilkington United Kingdom Ltd part of the NSG Group, has been a long-standing Board Member of the GGF and was elected President in December 2020. In this, his first interview as President, Tony shares his industry background, views and optimism of the future of the GGF.
When did you start in this industry?
I started in the Aluminium Extrusion Industry in the 1970’s when it was the predominant material for Windows & Door framing for both domestic and commercial applications and it still has its place alongside PVCu, Timber & Steel. I have held a variety of roles within our sector, but over the last 15 years serving as UK&I Business Development & VAP Manager for founder GGF member, Pilkington UK Limited, an exciting and wide-ranging role that involved work with Government, Industry, our UK operations and R&D departments.
How long have you been involved with the GGF?
I cannot be sure of the exact date but over 12 years. I started attending meetings as an observer for Pilkington, I was invited to join the Board of BFRC, then moving into the Glazing Executive and eventually voted in as Chair of Glazing Executive from where I became GGF Vice President and it’s now an honour to have the responsibility of the GGF Presidency for the next two years. This route is open to any Member, such a route will ensure that the top role is as a result of hard work and commitment to the industry’s main trade organisation.
What are the challenges facing the industry?
Whilst there are the normal challenges of economic stability, and dealing with the current pandemic etc. as an Industry we need to get our collective voice heard by Government. We need to ensure that we help Government understand our products better and what role they can play in helping society move towards net-zero Carbon. Recently the sector has been initially overlooked in key issues such as the debate around the use of Laminated Safety Glass. At GGF we have corrected that, and I believe we have shown that we can produce high quality information for Government. We also need to look at the development ‘Road Map’ for our products, we cannot rely on maintaining the ‘status quo’. We need to boldly innovate and bring products to market that will benefit consumers and wider society.
What are your overarching objectives for the GGF?
The objectives are clear, externally, we need to build on the 40 plus years of GGF Activity with Industry, Consumer and Government through our service offerings. Through our wider technical services, we provide support to our entire industry and many do not realise this. We also need to raise the greater awareness of the value that our organisation provides widely and not just to our membership. Internally we need to build on the existing offerings from Group companies, FENSA, RISA & BFRC through dedicated business development activities. We are a service business, our employees are key to our businesses, we need to ensure that we focus on our employees by developing them, building on their strengths, and establishing a culture of excellence and work safety.
As GGF President, what will be the key political issues you will be focusing on during your tenure?
We need to further improve our communication with Government, with GGF Group businesses we represent around 8000 companies making GGF by far the largest sector body. We have been building strong relationships and improving cooperation with British Glass and the Flat Glass Manufacturers Association whilst maintaining links to Construction Products Association, FMB, NHIC, BWF, BPF and Cab to name just a few. We are a key industry player, through the Competent Persons Scheme, FENSA, we have been responsible for the certification of the installation of around 64 million windows & doors to date, through BFRC we are an integral part of the Building Regulations, our WER scheme plays a major part in compliance with the Regulations. Both businesses work for Government, Industry and most of all the consumer.
Energy efficiency is a priority if we are to get to Net Zero within the Governments timetable, they need to understand the scale of the problem, over 100 million Windows and 30 million doors need to be upgraded. Fabric first is the key to solving the problem, we need to see improved housing design utilising the available glazing technology and existing buildings brought to modern standards by improvements to the building fabric first.
Fire Safety Glass technology in relation to Fire Safety needs to be better understood. Our industry has been producing high performance products that provide incredible resistance to fire. We are currently engaged with MHCLG / OFR Consortium in the review of the use of laminated safety glass in balconies & balustrades. GGF working with Members have provided much needed evidence to Government on the performance of standard laminated safety glasses following extensive furnace testing at NSG Pilkington facilities in Germany. Based on the GGF findings presented to Government we are confident that the unfortunate ban on the use of laminated safety glasses will be lifted relatively quickly.
Training and skills are also areas where our industry is sadly lacking the Government funding needed to train and upskill employees to the highest standards. The GGF has set up a training partnership with Total Support Training offering many full and part time courses and qualifications to drive training in the industry but more Government support is needed. Training funding could also help companies attract people to the industry as the standards improve and training is integrated into a clear career path.
Local government restrictions on glazing in conservation areas is also impacting our sector with over three million homes being affected by the Article 4 Directions imposed by local councils. The GGF is aiming to help local authority conservation officers and building control departments appreciate the need for modern energy efficient glazing in older buildings, to improve lifestyles, the buildings themselves and the environment.
The inconsistency in councils is also a frustration for consumers and companies with different council applying different interpretations of the Article 4 Directive. Modern energy efficient glazing enhances buildings it is not detrimental and can now be manufactured to blend in with the surrounding buildings seamlessly.
What’s your message to Government?
The GGF is the leading trade body for the glass, glazing and fenestration industries with a mine of industry information and a pool of world experts of glass and glazing products, systems and services. We are a keen to support and work with Government to improve people’s lives, their homes, their health and the environment – engage with us and together we can change things for the better.
What’s your message for the GGF Membership?
There’s never been a more crucial time for companies to be part of the GGF. We are facing many challenges and the way to navigate a path through these difficult times is to be united and to help each other by being part of the Federation. The GGF has the resources to help companies of all sizes from all sides of the industry. Use the resources, the comprehensive technical library, the numerous regional and technical meetings, the technical and health and safety services and the many other benefits. Be part of something bigger and use the GGF to grow your business and deliver excellence for your customer.
At the present time, what’s your message to home improvement companies?
We have worked tirelessly with Government, primarily BEIS, on the issues for our sector generated by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. With the COVID pandemic continuing to have significant impact the sector, I’d strongly advise that all home improvement companies follow the extensive GGF Safe guidance, to ensure that you work safely in other people’s homes. By doing so, you will not only protect yourselves and your customers, but you will also protect the NHS and save lives.
What’s your message to the wider industry?
GGF Members operate to the highest industry standards to deliver state of the art products combined with highly professional services. They also have access to the comprehensive GGF technical and health and safety library of over one hundred publications written and produced by industry experts with decades of industry knowledge. It is because of this specialist knowledge combined with product and service excellence that architects, building and project managers, designers, specifiers and construction contractors across the UK and internationally, choose to work with GGF Members. I can tell you that its exciting times at GGF we are embarking on a period of significant development – be a part of the GGF ‘Team’ to bring increased success to your business.