Sector Friday: Non-metallic minerals

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Y'know, making glass, bricks and tiles and stuff, or more accurately, the sector includes manufacturing activities related to a single substance of mineral origin. Welcome to non-metallic minerals...

To give you a better idea of the sector, it is broken down as so:

Around 10% of output is exported, 14% goes to households and 75% into intermediate consumption.

Sectors that output goes into: construction, both heavy side (mainly used in early on in the construction process, materials that make the core/foundation of a building e.g. cement, bricks, and concrete products) and light side (products installed later on in the building process, e.g. ceramic products, tiles); civil engineering and infrastructure projects; automotive; and also back into the sector itself.

Super sector stats

- UK production accounts for 2.1% of worldwide non-metallic minerals output

- The sector accounts for 3% of total UK manufacturing

- 88,780 people are employed in the sector

- Exports from the sector are worth £2.2bn

Key inputs

Quarried materials including: clay; aggregates (e.g. gravel, sand, limestone).

It is an energy intensive industry – nearly all subsectors require heat to transform from raw materials into products. For example, brick making can require baking temperatures of 900-1200°C. However, manufacturers have taken steps to reduce energy consumption and, for example, over the past 3 decades energy consumption per tonne of glass produced has halved.

Chemicals are frequently mixed to change the composition, purity, and properties of products.

Sector drivers, recent performance and outlook

Sector performance is heavily reliant on drivers including: the overall health of the construction sector, public sector investment in major projects and developments, private sector confidence and investment, and consumer confidence and spending.

The 2008-12 period was difficult for the sector, reflecting the downturn in most key markets, especially construction. The number of firms in the sector dropped by around 14% during that time period and numbers employed dropped by 24,000. Capital spend in the sector dropped by 55% in 2009.

Recent infrastructure announcements and the house buying scheme will do little to bolster short-term prospects, but should positively impact in the medium to long-term. Forecasts for the sector show small growth in 2013 picking up slightly further from 2014.

Indeed, at the end of August the NHBC said that house building levels were at the highest level in July 2013 since July 2007, albeit from a low base and and numbers still well below the pre-recession peak.


Many products in this sector are high-density with a relatively low selling price so transport costs are determinant for trade. Products that are successfully exported include articles made from graphite or carbon; heat and sound insulation products; glass fibre; refractory ceramics; and friction mats (e.g. for mounting on brakes).

Trade figures have fluctuated marginally over the past 15 years but have remained pretty stable. 2002 saw the lowest amount with £1.8bn worth of exports whilst the peak year of 2008 saw £2.3bn worth.

The top five export markets by value in 2012 were Germany, Ireland, US, France and Sweden. These 5 markets make up 46% of exports.

The EU:non-EU export ratio has hovered around 60:40 mark since 1999. Of the 40% of exports to non-EU markets, a quarter is destined for the US.

The UK currently runs a trade deficit of around £1.3bn in this sector.


Senior Policy Researcher

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