Belfast 'critical' to Bombardier's future
Minister also insists lower corporation tax will bring 30,000 new jobs
Belfast remains crucial to the future of Bombardier, Stormont's industry minister has told the Assembly amid fears of potential further job losses.
The DUP Minister Jonathan Bell also insisted the lowering of corporation tax will not merely grow the region's economy - it will transform it.
He told MLAs that the lowering of the rate to 12.5% from April 2018 will mean in excess of 30,000 additional jobs.
Patsy McGlone, chair of the Assembly committee which monitors Mr Bell's department challenged the minister when he said he will continue to work closely with Bombardier "and explore other ways to support its drive for greater efficiencies".
"Perhaps he would care to explain what he means by 'greater efficiencies'," Mr McGlone said.
"For the rest of us who have listened to this bad news, efficiency usually equals further cutbacks. I would not like to think that was indeed the case."
Mr Bell said: "We know that Belfast is critical to Bombardier. Indeed, many of the discussions centred on how Bombardier cannot see a future without the Belfast plant.
"(You are wrong in asserting) that when a company becomes efficient and cost-competitive it always reduces its staff. History would tend to argue against that."
Questioned by a number of MLAs, Mr Bell said he and Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry have spent most of the last 72 hours working on the impact of the Bombardier bombshell.
"We know that 580 jobs will go by Christmas 2016, and we also know of the announcement of up to 500 jobs going by 2017. I understand that about 380 of those jobs are with a recruitment agency and are part of the complementary labour force.
"We are looking to ensure that the other manufacturing work that we believe to be out there can be introduced to those in the complementary labour force, who are in the most immediate position of losing their jobs."
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle asked: "What, specifically, will the minister and the Alliance Minister for Employment and Learning be able to do to ensure that workers have access to redundancy advice and retraining so that they can get alternative employment in the wider manufacturing sector?"
Mr Bell insisted: "Northern Ireland will have a bright aircraft manufacturing industry. It is worth about £1.1bn and employs somewhere in the region of 8,500 people in Northern Ireland. I want to see that grow to 12,000 people, and I want to see that £1.1bn value to our economy grow to £2bn by 2024. All the resources of DEL are being put behind the workers through careers advice, reskilling and retraining and into how we can ensure that the complementary labour force, where there are other manufacturing areas that need skilled workers, can see people married to those positions.
"Into the future, as we build the SC21 supply chain, we will look to see how those workers can be reskilled and retrained to take advantage of those opportunities.
"Let us not forget that every single major aircraft corporation in the world is accepting manufacturing from Belfast and Northern Ireland."