No manufacturing crisis, Hamilton tells Assembly
New Economy Minister Simon Hamilton has denied manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland is in crisis.
In the first debate of the new Assembly, the DUP man said he could assure MLAs the Executive's developing Programme for Government will highlight "the particular significance of manufacturing to the local economy".
Responding to the first issue brought by Stormont's opposition parties - in this case, the Ulster Unionists - Mr Hamilton insisted: "For those looking for a strategy, we already have one, it's called the Economy Strategy."
And a DUP amendment calling on the Executive "to focus on creating more and better jobs in Northern Ireland and to bring forward an updated economic strategy alongside the new Programme for Government 2016-21" was agreed.
"There is something of a perception that Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector is in the doldrums - because of the demise of many of our traditional heavy industries (and the) decisions by JTI and Michelin to close their plants and more recently, Seagate," Mr Hamilton said.
He said figures for 2015 show that employment in the sector is now at 80,000 for the first time since 2008.
Sales by manufacturing firms in 2014 stood at £18.1bn, an increase of 1.7% on the previous year, he said, while manufacturing exports in 2015 were £6.3bn - up £350 million on 2014 - and manufacturing output was up 2.4% in the last year.
But opening the debate, Ulster Unionist Steve Aiken warned: "Manufacturing witnessed devastating levels of job losses during the last mandate and we want to set down a marker for the new Executive that a failure to act on a strategy to rebuild the sector would be totally unforgivable."
He told MLAs: "Manufacturing generates annual sales approaching £20bn, directly employs 85,000, supports production and the employment of over 214,000 in the wider supply chain and creates well-paid jobs and strong communities in every constituency across Northern Ireland."
The UUP called for a target of growing the manufacturing sector by 20% by 2026 and for the setting up of a more inclusive NI Strategic Manufacturing Board.
"The Executive needs to radically change its mindset, to prove that manufacturing is not in a sunset period," the south Antrim MLA added.
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy, chair of the Assembly's Economy Committee, said energy costs are a particular concern for 20 or 30 of the province's largest manufacturers, and the impact of the proposed lowering of our corporation tax rate in 2018 on manufacturers would also have to be considered.
"I want any strategy that promotes, supports and encourages new manufacturing industries to be one that is regionally balanced as well," he said.