Making a Living Wage a custom at Custom Pharma

Tony Rogers, People Director at Brighton & Hove-based Custom Pharma Services explains why the company decided to subscribe to the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign. Here he talks candidly to Brighton Chamber Ambassador Jill Woolf, Managing Director of PR and marketing consultancy Chimera Communications.

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First of all would you mind explaining in layman’s terms what Custom Pharma does?

I’ll try! We describe ourselves as a full service contracts, development and manufacturing organisation which means basically on the manufacturing side, we make tablets and capsules that you may take as medicine and we do this mainly for other companies, although we do make one line under our own name. We manufacture primarily under other people’s brands but if you look inside your packet of tablets, you may see the product is, in fact, manufactured by Custom Pharmaceuticals. A good example of this is that we make products for Boots.

On the development side, it’s about the initial work we do when we take on a new product: making sure it’s fit for market and licenced properly. We also might be able to make a different strength product if we’re making one for another company, or a new way of a drug being released, for example by slow release.

Do you work mainly in the UK, for example with the NHS, or do you export abroad?

It’s mainly in the UK and Europe although we do trade worldwide, for example into Australia and New Zealand.

Presumably the Living Wage Campaign relates more to the people in your manufacturing areas?

We’ve got quite a diverse range of people who work for us so you’re right in the main. Our operational areas of manufacturing, packaging and warehouse teams are where the pay is lower. Also on the operational side, we have our laboratory which tends to be staffed by graduates, but there are some support staff here who will have been affected by the Campaign. In addition, we have a couple of cleaners across our sites for whom the Campaign is relevant and who have received increases.

Why did you decide to sign up to the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign?

We know it’s quite tricky for some of our staff, and indeed others, these days to afford some of the basic things in life like rent and transport where the costs continue to go up despite lower inflation. This is particularly true of rents in Brighton, so I think it’s completely the right thing to do. It means people at the lower end of the pay scale will receive higher percentage increases than those higher up the chain.

Will the new arrangement show through positively in your recruitment?

I believe it’s a quality stamp and should be a prerequisite for any employer in the city. It’s saying we believe in our people. We have five values in our company and one of these is that we value our people, so we’re putting our money where our mouth is!

Will the Living Wage changes reflect on existing staff as well as new ones?

Absolutely. We didn’t have to make too many changes to pay to bring in the Living Wage and in fact, we went a bit beyond that.

So there were thumbs-up from your teams?

Well, it’s still relatively low money, there’s no getting away from that, but it’s what we can do right now. We have embraced the Living Wage and we’ll do our best to do more when we can.

You mentioned that Custom Pharma Services has five values and you touched on valuing your people as one of them. What are the other four?

Yes, first of all there’s People – treating others as you would expect to be treated; Integrity – working honestly and ethically; Expertise – gaining, using and sharing technical knowledge; Customer Services – putting your customer first, knowing what they need and delivering above their expectations; and Efficiency – working smarter not harder. Certainly the first two in particular are very much in line with the ethos of the Living Wage Campaign.

Has it meant significant changes to your pricing structure?

It has presented a challenge for us. Historically we’ve always competed on price. We’re trying to change the company so not only will we compete on price but on speciality and quality as well now. But controlling the cost of goods is still a big pressure for the company.  We made the decision to accommodate the increased payments on the basis that we truly do believe it’s the right thing to do.

Although it’s early on, are there – or can you imagine there being – any other outcomes from being part of the Living Wage Campaign that you hadn’t envisaged?

Well, one of the things we’re doing now which we hadn’t done before is that we’re doing all our own recruitment instead of using agencies. We’re two years into a five-year plan, looking strategically ahead, and at the end of the five years we want to have a much more skilled workforce. This means investing in our people, which includes rewarding them. We’re in the process of moving from our existing premises in Hove to new premises in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, where we have purchased the former Beacon Bingo Building. Over the next few years we will be transforming the site into our new Pharmaceutical Innovation Centre. We already have a site at Moulsecoomb and this move will bring the Company together.

Finally, what would you say to other companies considering joining the Campaign?

It’s the least your staff deserve: to be treated with respect and be paid a wage which will enable them to have a decent standard of living.

Thanks to Jill Woolf, Chimera Communications for this interview with Tony Rogers, People Director at Custom Pharma

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Are you, or could you be, a Living Wage employer? Over 270 businesses have now signed up to the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign, and it would be great if you could join them.

It is free to sign up here – If you have any questions, or would like to chat, please give us a call on 01273 719097 or email