Portobello Engineering

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Portobello Engineering's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Portobello Engineering is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Highlighting best practice
Managing Director Hal Debes
Placing qualified staff and high-
specification equipment on site
Portobello Engineering is a tailored designer of metal
products for a range of sectors. Located in Derbyshire, it
has collaborated with world-leading clients such as Toyota
and Procter & Gamble, working on projects ranging from
restoring historic ships to developing cooling plants for industry.
The organisation brings a varied skillset to every job, and
Managing Director Hal Debes tells
The Parliamentary Review
how he grew from a sole trader to become the owner of an
innovative engineering company.
Having initially worked as a self-employed sole trader, I evolved Portobello
Engineering into the organisation it has become today, which required plenty of
hard work and commitment. We have always been customer focused and because
of the quality of our service, within a few years of trading we were forced to
expand in order to meet the growing demand. At the time, the plastics industry
was booming, which created plenty of business opportunities, and we also began
working with a number of distilleries and breweries, offering water reclamation
solutions. These contracts proved the springboard for the steady growth we have
experienced over the past ten years.
Innovative, on-site solutions
Placing qualified staff and high-specification equipment on site at a range of
locations is our key strength. Having our staff on site allows us to build a stronger
»Managing Director: Hal Debes
»Founded in 1996
»Based in Matlock, Derbyshire
»Services: Design and
installation of metal solutions
for a range of industries
Portobello Engineering
understanding of the clients’
circumstances and requirements
and enables us to draw up feasibility
considerations based on detailed
research. Many of our clients remark
that this is a particularly useful aspect
of our service and it saves them having
to work with contractors, who can be
unreliable. We have worked with a
number of organisations in France too,
and the extent to which we are able to
offer tailored solutions is our unique
selling point.
When visiting the site of a potential
client, we undertake detailed analysis
before proposing improvements to
the current work or creating a new
solution that could be implemented
as a replacement. Once they have
analysed the proposal, they will decide
whether or not to raise an order. A
number of plastic companies have
worn-out infrastructure following the
boom in the late 1990s, and this has
become a key market for us. Many
want us to build new solutions that
can help minimise waste, while they
are becoming increasingly aware of the
demands placed on plastic products
Staffing and engineering in
the UK
My role has evolved over time and I
play a far less hands-on role than I
have done in the past. When I started
out I would act as a consultant,
administrator and designer, while also
completing installation work. Today,
however, I am primarily tasked with
client meetings, developing solutions
and demonstrating to our teams
how to implement our designs. My
brother is a director too, and he works
as a project manager on a range
of ventures, ensuring that they are
completed to the necessary standard
and within the requisite time frame.
As we are able to work on multiple
projects at once, we can rely on our
dedicated teams to properly implement
out plans. Currently, we employ 15
members of staff but as we look
to grow larger we may face issues
during the recruitment process. The
work we conduct requires skilled
employees, but there are far fewer
young people joining the job market
in our sector than there used to be
when I established the business. We
are offering as much in-house training
as we can afford and have embraced
the government’s drive to get more
apprentices in work, but there is a
limit to the amount of training we
We are currently looking to take on
more apprentices and we recently
agreed a collaborative programme
with the University of Derby that
aims to provide students with the
opportunity to gain industry experience
and build transferable skills. Offering
apprenticeships is very important
from a sector perspective too, as
engineering training standards have
A hot rivet in the
manufacturing process
Having our staff
on site allows us
to build a strong
of the clients’
and enables us
to draw up
based on
Highlighting best practice
slipped in recent years. Students
are often ill prepared for the
realities of a role in the engineering
sector and teachers are lacking the
We would like to be given the funding
to provide more in-house training,
utilising our years of experience and
specific expertise to enrich students’
educational process. Without the
funding, however, I cannot deliver the
necessary hours as it would risk the
business losing orders. I am confident
that we could offer a higher standard of
teaching than a number of institutions,
and when I retire I intend to offer my
services to help raise thequality.
It appears the evident skill shortage
within our industry has arisen as the
result of engineering being seen as
a dirty word in the UK. This is not so
much the situation on the continent,
and Germany in particular, but the
technological revolution seems to
have led to young people in the UK
overlooking engineering as a potential
career path. The government should
be concerned about this dramatic
generational change in attitude and
needs to find a way to reinvigorate the
pride in British engineering that has
been lost.
Progressing Portobello
We remain busy as an organisation and
enquiry levels are showing no signs of
diminishing. To progress the business,
I hope to take on more apprentices
and offer them a high-quality in-house
education, which could, in turn, help
revive enthusiasm for an increasingly
lost skill.
We had a young man recently join
us with a farming background, and
his approach and aptitude for the
role have really impressed me. I am
excited to train him and help build his
knowledge, and it is students like this
that I want to see more of.
It appears the
evident skill
shortage within
our industry
has arisen as
the result of
being seen as a
dirty word in
the UK
Our in-house foundry


This article was sponsored by Portobello Engineering. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister