How much is the fireworks industry worth in the UK?

As soon as the sky lights up in a multitude of colours and the decibels suddenly increase, the UK population certainly do not forget what day it is. The UK fireworks industry has seen several challenges in the past few years, such as fierce opposition and the effects of Brexit and Covid-19, but how much is it worth? Business Leader investigates.

Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve

The 5th of November has been synonymous with fireworks for as long as one can remember. Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, has been a date circled on the calendar ever since its inception in 1606. It has given British people up and down the United Kingdom the opportunity to gather and enjoy stunning displays of pyrotechnics, as well as a much-needed injection of light, as the nights begin to draw in.

The other major fireworks display in the UK is the New Year’s Eve celebrations. The average cost of the displays put on in London each year have been around £2million over the last decade and peaked at £2.3million in 2018 and 2019. The stunning celebrations have continued to grow as a spectacle, with the gatherings becoming ticketed in 2014, in turn raising around £800,000 in 2019.

It has become a must-see occasion, being broadcast live on the BBC in front of millions of viewers and attracting a host of guests and performers. However, the famous display looks set to be cancelled for a second consecutive year due to ongoing Covid concerns.

The effect of Brexit on Bonfire Night 2021

The UK fireworks industry has recently been hit with a lack of stock and issues with overseas shipping. It comes as a result of Brexit and Covid-19 restrictions, which have severely hampered the plans of suppliers and consumers across the UK. Other factors such as the Suez Canal blockage, worldwide shortage of containers and congestion at European ports have all added to the problems that the industry have had to face. However, the lack of firework-based events in the last 18 months could mean that previously-planned gatherings are not as affected as first feared, due to unused goods.

The fallout from leaving the EU has seen a dramatic fall in the normal supply levels, with estimates suggesting as much as 70% of typical stock will not be received. Given that the world’s largest manufacturers of fireworks are China, the rules on importing through the EU mean that this is a considerably taller task. Costs have also soared, from deposits for shipping containers to the importing of those containers. Following EU workers returning to Europe and visa issues, the much-publicised labour shortages have had an adverse effect on the UK fireworks industry.

What have been the trends regarding fireworks in the UK in the past few years?

Trends, while largely remaining similar, have changed slightly throughout the past couple of years. 2020 saw a shift in the patterns of previous years, with regards to its purchase channels. Online had typically been bottom-ranked when it came to sales, but 2020 saw an increase and jumped to the third most popular purchase option. This was because of the closure of non-essential shops due to the Covid-19 lockdown. There was a minor decline in terms of purchases for Bonfire Night, but that made room for increased buys for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

There has also been a boost in sales for other celebrations, such as Diwali and the Chinese New Year. In fact, fireworks sales for Bonfire Night have been on a steady decline, with around 45% in 2018 down to below 40% in 2019. Supermarkets have easily been the most popular when it comes to the main place to buy. With some beginning to limit or remove the option to purchase fireworks altogether, though, there is a bigger avenue for sales for pyrotechnic specialists or general stores.

This year, there have been further calls for supermarkets to stop selling fireworks in their stores. Sainsbury’s have become the first to turn their back on the sale of fireworks, while others such as Asda and Tesco have offered low-noise alternatives.

How does Independence Day (4th July) compare?

The United States of America play host to one of the largest firework-based days on the calendar. The 4th of July, otherwise known as Independence Day, is one of the biggest events of the year in America. The celebrations are mainly based around extensive firework displays dating back hundreds of years. As a result, the related expenditure is significant. It was estimated that Americans spent between $1.5billion and $2billion on fireworks in 2020.

China – the home of all things fireworks

The introduction of fireworks has been traced over 1400 years back to China, with some suggesting they were discovered in some form over 2000 years ago. It is fitting, then, that China is by far the biggest manufacturers of fireworks worldwide, estimated at about 90%.

The once-booming firework manufacturing industry in the UK has dwindled during the 21st century, owing largely to the sheer size of operation and labour costs in China.

Could fireworks be banned in the UK?

The calls to ban fireworks in the UK have accelerated in the past few years, currently culminating in the aforementioned non-sale and limited sales in supermarkets. These calls have mainly been centred around concern for the welfare of pets, as well as anti-social behaviour and environmental issues. Petitions have been signed and social media has been full of users requesting that fireworks be banned.

Concerns regarding the fallout of a potential ban have also been raised in similarly raucous opposition. Those fears include the economic effects of a ban, revolving around both specialist fireworks suppliers and general stores who would be hit the hardest. As with anything that is legally prohibited, there is always going to be scope for those products to be moved through illegally. Additionally, fireworks have often proved to be a great opportunity for fundraising across the UK, with displays earning valuable funds towards good causes.

While the Government have not expressed any plans to change laws any time soon, there is no doubt that the pressure towards getting fireworks outlawed is steadily growing. Will there become a time where fireworks are not available to the general public, with fully-licensed displays the only way to get a pyrotechnics fix?

As much as an increasingly large amount of opposition gathers, there does not seem to be any movement just yet with regards to the Government making any sort of changes.