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Firm behind James Bond whisky glass faces ruin, as Hunt makes Autumn Statement

The boss of a traditional glassblower has warned that without urgent help his company could collapse, as energy bills and staffing costs threaten his business.

Chris Blade, chief executive of Cumbria Crystal, a small company based in Ulverston, said his annual energy bill could have increased tenfold unless he had taken preventative measures.

Thanks to locking into a long-term energy contract in recent years, Mr Blade will only have to pay £6,000-£7,000 annually, when many of his competitors have seen energy bills soar to £60,000-£70,000.

But a rise to the National Living Wage poses a far more immediate threat to the firm, which employs 25 people. The added cost could add £40,000 to the company’s annual staffing bill.

“We are the last luxury crystal manufacturing company in Britain, using 2,000 year-old processes to make our pieces,” he told i.

“We sell pieces to trade customers, some retailers, and our crystal has appeared on screen as James Bond’s whisky tumblers in Casino Royale and on the dining table of Downton Abbey. We were founded in 1976 by Lord and Lady Cavendish, who imported glassmakers from Stourbridge, the home of British glassmakers.”

He added: “With 25 people, we are essentially a very small company and are extremely vulnerable to changes in energy costs and staffing costs, particularly increases to the national minimum wage.

“Each of our five glass blowers takes a minimum of 15 years to train before they are any good to work with us. Our latest glassmakers have come from America, as there’s no money to train apprentices in the UK any more.

“As glassblowing is such a heritage, niche craft there are not enough assessors here. We are not really eligible to apply for funding for support for training or apprenticeships.

“To cut costs we have already stripped out about 60 to 70 per cent of the items we make from our production line, and I’m moving the company away from an emphasis on producing glass to be sold through luxury retailers.”

Energy bills

Mr Blade said: “Our energy bill currently stands at £6,000 to £7,000 annually. We are lucky at the moment as before the crisis I had signed a longer-term energy supply contract with a large provider, so we are temporarily protected from the worst of the rises.

“But if you look at some of the famous the world famous glassmakers in Venice, many of them are closing because they’ve seen tenfold increases in their bill. If I hadn’t made other arrangements we’d be looking at a bill of £60,000-£70,000. There would have been no way that the company would have survived.”

More from Business

He said there was nothing announced in Thursday’s Autumns Statement that would be enough to the company.

“For the glass industry, the government’s aim is for 30-40 per cent of companies to not be reliant on natural gas. But there’s no technology to let you make high quality crystal glass with electricity at the moment,” he said. “We bought new furnaces seven years ago which run on gas, and if we had to convert them to run on electricity it would cost us £400,000 to £500,000.

“I don’t think we can expect for any help with our energy bills, but I‘m very concerned about what the future holds. In terms of reducing our energy use, I don’t think most small companies have the resources to think about a 2030 target. That seems a long way off when most of us are worried about what happens in the next 6 to 12 months.”

National living wage

Under new measures outlined by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the National Living Wage is set to rise to £10.42 from 1 April 2023, an increase of 92p or 9.7 per cent.

For Mr Blade and his team of 25, it will mean that staff salaries will increase by a total of £40,000 a year – or £1,600 per team member.

“For a company of our size in our part of England, rises to the living wage are one of the key issues for us,” he said. “We make sure to reflect the increase across our entire staff, as most of them are on thresholds that are not hugely above the living wage.

“Just under 70 per cent of all of our costs are staff costs, because we need such skilled staff to do what we do. For us it has a significant impact.

“With staff being our primary resource, while we were expecting this we have to work out how to help our customers come to terms with these. Earlier in the year trade customers faced a 40 per cent price increase just to help us survive the next few year.

“I would urge Mr Hunt to support small businesses as much as possible. We are struggling with the debts accrued over the past few years, and many of us are right on the brink of survival.”

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