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Michelin jobs axed: Energy prices have put Northern Ireland at disadvantage for years

By Liam Clarke

Published 04/11/2015

Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015
Photographer: Stephen Hamilton
General views Michelin factory in Ballymena,
Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The
company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have
told the BBC
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people.
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton Michelin worker comes to terms with loosing his job at the Ballymena factory. General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Staff discuss the impact of the announcement at the Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena. Picture Presseye Jonathan Porter.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 General views of the Michelin Tyre factory in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, where workers have been called to a meeting. The company has been producing tyres in the town since 1969 employing over 1,000 people. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyePress Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 General views of the Michelin Tyre factory in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, where workers have been called to a meeting. The company has been producing tyres in the town since 1969 employing over 1,000 people. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyePress Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people
Ballymena town centre
All the breast-beating by our politicians won't get away from the fact that Michelin yesterday announced that it was restructuring its European operations and we lost out

All the breast-beating by our politicians won't get away from the fact that Michelin yesterday announced that it was restructuring its European operations and we lost out.

That is a question for our politicians to reflect on as they struggle to reach agreement.

The company has set aside €280m (£200m) to finance this restructuring. Some will go to paying people off here, and at Oranienburg in Germany where it is closing a retreading facility. A plant at Fossano in Italy will close eventually, but elsewhere it is growth.

Stoke-on-Trent and Dundee will see 110 new jobs.

Why are we behind Scotland?

A couple of lines in the explanation given to staff by management stood out. "Our energy costs are too high" and "other European plants are still more competitive than us".

The facts of life on energy costs are that, here, large manufacturers pay 8.8 p/kWh (per kilowatt hour) compared to an EU average of 6.1 and 7.2 in the Republic.

This has put us at a competitive disadvantage for decades. As Unite said of the proposed Ballymena closure, "this devastating news is not unexpected but is reflective of the failure by the NI Executive as a whole to act".

The union says it met Jonathan Bell, the Enterprise Minister, in July but he has still not replied to its proposals. In fact, the problem goes back much further and has been raised repeatedly by the manufacturing industry, which still employs 80,000 - or nearly 10% - of our workforce.

"Energy drives the high operating costs" said Stephen Kelly, CEO of Manufacturing Northern Ireland. He added: "There has been complete inactivity on this energy issue for more than a year. We are now faced with a downturn in the market plus a strong sterling and we are vulnerable."

He explained: "Everybody is either reducing consumption, anything from changing light bulbs to revising production patterns. Those that have the ability want to generate their own electricity."

Bombardier, our biggest manufacturer, is trying to become completely independent by the use of solar panels and biomass. In other words, our most important companies find publicly available power supply ruinously expensive.

Power prices here have been a victim of 'not in my back yard' politics. Nobody wants an oil well, a wind turbine, any mention of fracking, a biomass plant or even too many solar panels anywhere near them. We are also a nuclear-free zone.

The result is more expensive power.

Often development is opposed on the grounds that it would destroy tourism, but we need some perspective.

Our tourism numbers are still comparatively low, the climate sees to that. The jobs are generally low paid, the sort where employers find the minimum wage challenging.

Our manufacturers, on the other hand, provide well-paid, skilled jobs whose wages support the retail and leisure sectors.

We need to build an economy that can attract them from abroad, grow them locally and keep them when we have got them.

No political project is more important than improving living standards.

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