Manufacturing 'at the centre' of new economic strategy, minister pledges
The manufacturing industry will be at the heart of a refreshed economic strategy for Northern Ireland, the economy minister has pledged.
Jonathan Bell vowed to support the sector as he made a statement to the Assembly about the 1,000-plus job losses announced by Bombardier last week.
The redundancies at the Canadian aerospace company's Belfast plants come in the wake of similar major jobs blows linked to the planned closures of long-standing manufacturing operations at JTI Gallaher and Michelin in Ballymena.
The series of large-scale job losses has led to allegations Stormont has neglected Northern Ireland's manufacturing industry.
Mr Bell rejected the claims as he addressed MLAs on the Bombardier situation.
"The job losses at Bombardier, along with those at Michelin and JTI, are serious blows, but we must be neither despondent nor complacent," he said.
"In the midst of these recent devastating redundancies, it is important to remember that the total number of jobs in manufacturing continues to grow, and recently the total numbers employed in manufacturing passed 80,000 for the first time in a number of years.
"We can, and we must, build on that base. I want to see flourishing manufacturing companies at the heart of a growing economy, with Northern Ireland supplying the world with everything from complex aircraft structures to portable defibrillators and quarrying machinery, to name but three.
"It starts with having the right strategy in place. Work is under way in my department on a major refresh of the Executive's economic strategy. I have tasked my officials to put manufacturing at the centre of that new strategy, as one of its major themes. That will not be just warm words. I want to see a real focus on the role of manufacturing as the bedrock of our economy."
Mr Bell said promoting the planned reduction in corporation tax; investing in skills and training; and taking steps to improve competitiveness, such as tackling high energy costs, would be three key themes of the strategy.
Mr Bell added: "I and my Executive colleagues will do everything we can for the people who are directly affected by the job losses; and we will continue to support Bombardier, to secure its future.
"Looking beyond that, the economic strategy will reflect our unshakeable belief in the future for manufacturing in Northern Ireland, which will continue to be the centrepiece of our economy, and the envy of the world."