Clays boss defends decision to stay open

Clays boss Paul Hulley appeared on BBC News last week to defend the firm’s decision to stay open during the Covid-19 outbreak, pointing out that it was “fundamentally important” to preserve livelihoods during the crisis.

Hulley appeared on the show via Facetime
Hulley appeared on the show via Facetime

The Bungay-based book printer – the biggest book printing site in the UK – had come under fire on social media after TV host Piers Morgan tweeted a call to his 7.2m followers asking people to tell him about companies that were “remaining open with no good public health reason to do so…. Making you go to work against Govt orders”.



Some people responded to Morgan’s tweet complaining about Clays remaining open, with other printing companies mentioned including book printing rival CPI and magazine printer William Gibbons.

Clays chief executive Hulley was interviewed on BBC Look East’s Friday evening news bulletin, where he explained the firm’s position and pointed out that the government “has not shut down UK industry”.

“The government’s instruction is that all of those who can work from home must work from home, and that’s exactly what we’re doing so we’ve got over 100 people working from home,” he stated.

“But all of those who can’t work from home must come to work, working safely within the bounds of the guidance and instruction that the government has given, particularly with reference to social distancing.”

Hulley said that Clays had put in place new measures including extra time between shifts, with working practices adjusted so that employees were always at least two metres apart.

“Some of it is slightly more complicated in terms of putting in place new safe systems of work so we can show that jobs that might have been done before with people standing close together can now be done with people standing further away from each other,” he explained.

“And of course we’ve put in place  new cleaning routines. Deeper cleaning, and more regular cleaning of machines and facilities.”

He was quizzed about negative comments on social media in response to Morgan’s tweet, with some people connected to workers at Clays saying they were “anxious” about being required to go to work.

“Let’s face it we’re all anxious at the moment and that goes for our employees and their families just as much as anywhere else in the country,” Hulley said.

“That’s why it’s been very important from our point-of-view to do this in a very collaborative way with our workforce, with all of our employees and their union representatives, really working together on it.

“I had an employee come to me this morning who said ‘isn’t it great we have all managed to do this’. And he was particularly pleased because he said he can go home tonight to his wife, who is a frontline NHS worker and say, ‘I feel just as safe at Clays as I do anywhere else’.”

Look East presenter Susie Fowler-Watt also asked Hulley how important it was for Clays to stay open.

“The government has not shut down UK industry. We actually have a full order book and we’re very busy, so we’re unable to furlough anybody because we need all our employees here,” Hulley responded.

“If we were to shut of our own volition, who is going to pay our £2m per month wage bill? In terms of preserving livelihoods this is fundamentally important, and hence it was equally important that we found a way to quickly adhere assiduously to all of the guidance and instructions put in place.”

Clays employs more than 700 staff and had sales of around £72m in its most recent financial year. The business was acquired by Italian firm Elcograf, part of the Pozzoni Group, two years ago.

Hulley told Printweek that the group’s Italian facilities had managed to remain open despite the serious issues affecting Italy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.



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