Print has always been part of politics and innovations mean it always will

Dan Rogerson
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The relationship between politicians and printers is closer than many may think. It is summed up in a quote from David Penhaligon, the famous Cornish Liberal MP, which now permeates the practice of every political party: "If you've got something to say, stick it on a piece of paper and shove it through a letterbox."

We've got a bit more professional since the 1980s, with the modern electoral competition reliant on an ever broader range of printed material, from the humble Focus leaflets posted through letterboxes across the country, to the newer full-colour glossy magazines. Even at a time when more and more people are getting their information online, the majority of those in politics recognise that printed matter is the most effective way to communicate with the public.

However, we have to be aware of environmental issues. As the green agenda has gained prominence, politicians and printers alike have had to work out how to respond. The public is quick to criticise anything they receive on non-recycled paper and even the ink used can come under scrutiny to check that has been sourced sustainably.

Printers like those in my constituency have made great technological strides to allow them to print in high quality, at short notice and in short runs, reducing waste and saving money. Despite the enormous challenge presented by low-cost printers in the south-east Asia, the competition cannot match the innovation at work in Britain.

Vocational training crucial
Having had a brief flirtation with the concept of life-long learning, the government has shifted its focus back firmly on to younger people, often leaving behind those who are looking to ‘reskill' by training for a new career. As a member of the All-Party Print Group, I support campaigns to ensure those who want to get into the print industry can achieve their ambition.

Vocational qualifications for school students and school leavers are still too often considered second best to their academic counterparts. I want to see as much value placed on training to get into the print industry as is enjoyed by those who choose academic subjects like politics and law.

The industry is lucky to have such vocal and effective advocates in the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) and in Unite. They maintain an effective relationship with parliament through the All Party Print Group and they were quick to challenge me recently when I commented on the amount of money the government had spent on printing its Digital Britain report.

Naturally, as a staunch advocate for the industry, I am by no means a detractor of printing per se. I know what a misery it is to try and read long documents on a flickery computer screen and, certainly, I know that if that's the only option, I tend to end up printing long tracts myself.

However, in this particular instance, the government had spent what seemed a disproportionate amount on printing the report and then sent large numbers of unsolicited copies of it to people who would have recycled it straight away.
Members of the public who wanted to read Digital Britain were left to access it online or fork out nearly £35 for a printed copy. It seemed to me that stakeholders should have been offered a free copy on request and that the same offer could have been made to members of the public. That way, you get quality presentation of important information, access for all and value for the taxpayer.

The relationship between politics and print is something that should be maintained. My colleague Terrye Teverson - prospective Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and Falmouth - owns and runs KCS Print in my constituency and is a Council Member of the Independent Print Industries Association. She is a valued contact and more than capable of dispensing frank advice when its needed. She and I are already planning an event in Cornwall for later in the year, which we hope to use to promote the work of the print industry in responding to the environmental and economic challenges it faces and to give it the credit it deserves. 

Dan Rogerson is Member of Parliament for North Cornwall and a Liberal Democrat member of the All Party Parliamentary  Print Group

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