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More than 6,000 manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland could go within decade

By John Mulgrew

Published 24/03/2016

Jobs will go in manufacturing but the picture is not all bleak
Jobs will go in manufacturing but the picture is not all bleak
Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly

More than 6,000 jobs could be lost across Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector over the next decade as companies become more efficient and increase their use of technology.

That is according to a major new report on the entire industry here and its overall contribution to the economy.

But the study, carried out by Manufacturing NI and Oxford Economics, predicted the industry itself would grow in size, despite headcount falling.

It said sustaining growth relied on a number of areas, including investment in new technology and processes, along with changing market habits.

"We forecast that total economic output in manufacturing in Northern Ireland will be £5.5bn in 2025," it added.

This figure represents an increase of £795m, or an average rise of around 17%.

The report said that the industry currently boasted a workforce of 85,000 across Northern Ireland.

And Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly said the next Executive must do more to more and create a clear strategy in order to boost the sector here.

Northern Ireland's manufacturing industry has suffered a number of blows during the past 12 months.

The loss of more than 1,000 jobs at Bombardier followed similar cuts at Michelin and JTI Gallaher.

Around 860 positions will go at the tyre giant when it closes its doors in 2018.

A similar number of jobs will be lost at JTI Gallaher.

On the future job cuts, the report said: "We expect manufacturing employment to fall by 7% over 10 years, with the loss of 6,300 jobs. This will see manufacturing's share of total employment fall to just over 9%."

"The decline in manufacturing employment will not be unique to Northern Ireland, with jobs in the sector expected to decline in every region of the UK by 2025.

"In fact, the pace of the decline in manufacturing in Northern Ireland will be slower than the UK average of 11%, due in part to the sectoral make-up of manufacturing in the region."

It added that the largest falls would be in Belfast, which could see job numbers drop by 1,200 over the same period.

Manufacturing is the largest source of export revenue in Northern Ireland, with sales reaching £6bn in 2014, the report said.

But Stephen Kelly said that "despite recent high-profile problems" the report "highlights the historic opportunity which the next Executive has to help create renewed economic prosperity".

"We believe that it's possible and necessary for the Executive to work with the manufacturing sector to increase its contribution to 20% of GDP, narrowing the gap between north and south of the border," he added.

And he said through the "implementation of a manufacturing strategy, the establishment of a target on competitive energy prices, continued stability on rates and a raising of ambition" the next Executive can "create the conditions which will see this target met and transform communities across Northern Ireland".

"It can lead a re-industrialisation of our economy," he said.

Neil McCullough of Oxford Economics, which carried out the report, added: "We've all heard of the high-profile demise of some of our traditional manufacturers in recent months, but what this analysis has uncovered is that a strong, vibrant and important manufacturing sector remains."

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