Packaging and Industrial Films Association chairman Dick Searle blasted “the intolerable burden of regulation” on the UK plastic packaging and industrial film sector at the association’s recent London annual general meeting.

He told 300 guests, including government officials, that the “increasingly overwhelming” taxation and regulatory burden from Westminster and Brussels was preventing companies from generating sufficient returns to implement the reinvestment needed to maintain their “world position”.

PIFA has apparently been working with the DTI to help members reap the benefits of Climate Change agreements, but Searle said it remained “very worried” about the EU Emissions Trading Regulations, due for implementation in 2006, where the UK was “threatening higher targets than any other European nation”.

In a hard-hitting address to guests, which included Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Dr Vincent Cable, Searle blasted the potential detrimental effects of the working time regulations, criticised the role of “still largely unregulated” internet auctions and attacked the supermarkets’ purchasing policies, which he said had “left many PIFA members “powerless to act”.

Searle had also been “horrified” at politicians’ apparent apathy over the decline in UK manufacturing industry, adding: “We can’t all work in computers, retailing or the public sector.”

He also cautioned on the potential effects of the EU’s proposed REACH legislation which, if passed, will require testing and registration of all chemicals used in manufacturing within Europe: “Make no mistake, this legislation will have a huge impact and, apart from the cost, could see a wide range of products withdrawn from sale, not because of any toxicity issues but simply because testing costs will far exceed product revenues.”

Dr Cable, who is also trade and industry spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, agreed in his guest speech that “too much red tape” was stifling UK manufacturing and called for all new regulatory measures to be subject to “proper regulatory assessment. Dubbing much of EU legislation “unbelievably convoluted”, he said the current Climate Change Levy system forced affected companies to “constantly negotiate”, adding that he would favour carbon taxation being applied upstream.

He also acknowledged the need to “recognise the role of science over emotion” when considering calls for environmental taxes and levies and, recognising concerns over supermarket power, said it was vital competition authorities “act wherever necessary to prevent cartel-like behaviour”.

Dr Cable signed off by calling for the DTI to be “scrapped”. “It costs £4.5bn annually and this money could be better spent,” he said. “Despite good intentions many industrial support schemes never see the money getting to the firms that need it most.”