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UK Among Mining Sector Change Leaders

Finance in mining is especially important, as mines – and the infrastructure that supports them – are very capital intensive

UK mining companies have turned towards new solutions and strategies, especially to digital technologies: innovative and sustainable mining is the future. Proven expertise and a healthy business environment attract international institutions to see UK standards as a model, says the UK’s ambassador to Serbia.

Your Excellency, the UK is a world economic powerhouse and certainly a desirable economic partner for most countries around the world. Mining has played a significant role in your history, and to this day the UK remains one of the leading countries for mining supply chain companies. What has been the secret to success for the advancement of the mining industry in your country?

– Mining has indeed played an important role in our history over many centuries, with metals extraction dating back perhaps 4,000 years. My own mother comes from a coal-mining town in the Welsh valleys.

Minerals have played an important role in our economic growth and success. We take a holistic approach to the modern mining sector, recognising that it isn’t the only extraction that counts, but rather that this is an intricate web of financial regulation, education and skills, corporate law, environmental and tax policy, infrastructure development and so on. Finance in mining is especially important, as mines – and the infrastructure that supports them – are very capital intensive.

Our position as a global financial centre for the mining industry is built upon a trusted legal and regulatory framework that supports mining development and finance. Four of the top five leading globally diversified mining companies are listed in London.

For a mine to flourish requires a robust governance and policy framework that articulates the responsibilities and rights of stakeholders clearly. It is important to plan economic, social and ecosystem solutions that work for all. Good professional service providers delivering legal, financial, due diligence and technical expertise to miners, owners, investors – and governments – are important too. In recent years, UK mining companies have turned towards new solutions and strategies, especially to digital technologies: innovative and sustainable mining is the future.

Mining can support local development to a large extent, including through the creating of employment

Proven expertise and a healthy business environment attract international institutions to see UK standards as a model. UK companies have developed extensive operational excellence and are themselves required to demonstrate integrity in areas ranging from human rights, occupational health and safety, anti-corruption and transparency in reporting, through to sustainability and the environment and carbon footprint reduction. In the advisory sphere, UK consultancies deliver expert advice to global organisations on the efficient adaptation of business practises to satisfy these standards.

The mining industry has been growing through a transformation in the last few decades. Digitisation and automation, in particular, have been singled out as factors that will continue to significantly shape the way business is done. Your own country has been embracing these changes and has managed to benefit from them. What are the key messages you could pass on to Serbia on this topic?

H.E. Sian Christina Macleod, UK Ambassador to Serbia

– The world is changing, society’s needs are changing and our industries are changing. Whereas for previous generations coal mining was a major source of energy generation and employment, we are increasingly focusing on reducing environmental impacts, including through the development of lower-carbon alternatives and, in particular, renewable energy sources.

Adaptable skills become ever more important as the pace of technological change increases. Mining regions can also diversify economic strategies, and avoid an over-reliance on the exploitation of primary ore. Serbia, for example, is rich with lithium and borate, which can be used in so many different future applications.

The potential for developing downstream supply chain industries and boosting local economies is very real. Mining, of course, can also support a local manufacturing sector producing content for use in operations and creating employment. Forward-looking government strategies and good education and skills are a winning combination.

How has the UK embraced new trends in mining?

– The United Kingdom is one of the leaders of change in the mining industry today. We see the future in innovative and sustainable mining. UK mining companies are turning towards new solutions and strategies, especially to digital technologies. Introducing automatic processes can help remove people from dangerous working conditions. In turn, automation creates a demand for new jobs in areas such as data processing and software design. These can be paid better than the manual jobs they replace.

The UK has a world-class reputation in higher education, and specifically in the technical disciplines that are needed for the mining industry, including world-class geoscience, minerals and engineering research centres. We are now also developing a wealth of knowledge and expertise related to low-carbon technologies, sustainability, biodiversity and water management.

This is a complex business that needs clear rights for all stakeholders, from investors to local communities

Environmental issues are another important factor affecting the future direction of the mining industry. UK mining companies are working closely with universities, government and environmental experts to shape practises so as to address environmental and climate challenges. Tackling climate change is a very high priority for the UK Government: we will be hosting the next UN climate summit, COP 26, in Glasgow in November.

How do you see the future development of UK-Serbia relations in the mining sector?

– UK investment and expertise in Serbia’s mining sector is an important part of the relationship between our countries. Before arriving here as Ambassador last summer, I met representatives of companies to discuss their current activities and future plans. But our support to the sector goes beyond our engineering and scientific specialists.

For the flourishing mining industry, a country needs a robust governance and policy framework. Mining is a complex business that needs clear responsibilities and rights for all stakeholders, from investors to local communities.

The UK remains a committed partner in Serbia’s reform efforts, and we are proud to be one of the largest donor countries. Our support through the Good Governance fund has helped yield great results that are recognised through Serbia’s improved ranking on the Doing Business list.

A healthy business environment with a clear legal framework that is applied fairly, transparently and predictably is essential for attracting high-quality businesses and enhancing the reputation of a country as a destination for investment. I have every intention of continuing UK support for the creation of such an environment here in Serbia.