UK Planning Laws Hinder Investment, Warns Eli Lilly CEO

UK Planning Laws Hinder Investment, Warns Eli Lilly CEO

1 Jul    Finance News, News

The head of the world’s most valuable pharmaceutical company has criticised the UK’s planning system, claiming it deters investment.

Dave Ricks, CEO of Eli Lilly, an obesity drug manufacturer, has said that the current planning processes in the UK are a significant barrier to building factories quickly, unlike in the US and Ireland.

Ricks revealed that over the past decade, he considered establishing a factory in the UK but opted for another country due to the UK’s cumbersome planning procedures. “Mostly what they do is they pre-reserve land, they promise to cut through the red tape and layers of government,” Ricks explained, contrasting the UK’s approach with more streamlined processes elsewhere.

Eli Lilly, along with Danish competitor Novo Nordisk, leads the pharmaceutical industry in obesity medication, producing high-demand drugs like Zepbound and Mounjaro. The company is struggling to build factories quickly enough to meet the surging demand.

With operations in the US, Ireland, and several European Union countries including Italy, France, and Germany, Ricks emphasised that countries offering reduced setup times for pharmaceutical plants—from five years to two—are particularly appealing. “In the UK—although I love visiting, it’s a wonderful country—it’s not the largest market, so you have to overcome that with other attractiveness, whether that be workforce, asset delivery or economic incentives,” he noted.

Ricks urged the UK to enhance its competitiveness, stating, “You have to be candid, say ‘are we as competitive as we can be?’ And to date, it’s been a little bit less, but I think it’s not unachievable.”

Both major UK political parties have pledged to address planning laws in their manifestos. The Conservatives aim to “simplify the planning system,” while Labour has promised to reform it if they win the upcoming general election. A Labour spokesperson criticised the Conservatives for 14 years of indecision, which they claim has let down the UK’s life sciences sector. They added, “Labour has a plan for growth, including a new industrial strategy, and the UK’s life sciences sector is at the heart of it.”

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The Conservative Party has been contacted for comment.

Changes to planning laws are seen as crucial for boosting economic growth. The strength of the UK economy has been a central issue in the election campaign, with growth having been subdued in recent years. Ricks indicated that the UK remains a potential site for a new manufacturing facility, urging the next government to focus on becoming “world-class” in attracting investment.

“It’s a competition,” he stated. “You have to make it easier and faster for companies to make that choice.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson echoed these sentiments, criticising years of Conservative mismanagement for undermining business confidence and missing investment opportunities. “We would develop an industrial strategy to foster a stable business environment with smart regulation to give firms the certainty they need, and overhaul the broken business rates system to boost our manufacturing industry,” they said.

As the UK grapples with the need for economic revitalisation, reforms to the planning system could play a pivotal role in attracting critical investments from global companies like Eli Lilly.

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