Belfast Telegraph

Pressure grows on minister to create strategy to tackle flood of manufacturing job losses

By John Mulgrew

Stormont must produce a manufacturing strategy to stem the massive flood of job losses here after Caterpillar revealed it is closing a site and cutting 250 staff, it has been claimed.

But Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said that those who have used the latest job losses to "attack the Northern Ireland Executive do a disservice" to workers losing their jobs.

Northern Ireland is now the only region in the UK and Ireland which does not have a dedicated plan for the manufacturing sector.

And the fresh calls come after US giant Caterpillar revealed it is shutting its Monkstown factory.

It's now understood the Ulster Unionists will raise the issue in the Assembly in September after Economy Minister Simon Hamilton initially rejected calls for a dedicated plan for the sector.

Mr Hamilton had said he isn't "convinced that a stand-alone manufacturing strategy is the right thing for Northern Ireland".

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the question now is why major manufacturing giants are pulling their operations from Northern Ireland, and not elsewhere.

"At the end of the day, each one of the 108 MLAs has a strong manufacturing base in their communities, delivering jobs, putting money in pockets to spend in the economy," he said.

He added he was "unsure why" Mr Hamilton had rejected a formal manufacturing strategy.

"For us, the question is, why Monkstown and why Northern Ireland? We would be concerned that Northern Ireland continues to be selected by some of these FDI companies, to close facilities here, while other territories are unaffected," he said.

There have been several major job cut announcements within manufacturing here. That includes 1,080 jobs at Bombardier, around 860 posts which are set to go at Ballymena's Michelin and a similar number lost at cigarette-maker JTI Gallaher.

A report commissioned earlier this year pointed the finger at huge energy costs which are facing the industry here.

"That falls on the Executive to understand why it is happening, and what needs to be done to address this," Mr Kelly said.

"There are fundamental issues that have been identified, but little action taken.

"While Scotland has a strategy, our neighbours in the south will have one, as does England and Wales. It leaves Northern Ireland with its strong manufacturing heritage, without one. It makes no sense not to have one."

UUP economy spokesman Steve Aiken, reiterating calls for a dedicated manufacturing strategy, said: "All are unanimous in agreement that Northern Ireland needs a plan for industry."

Simon Hamilton told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have a strategy for the economy. It includes manufacturing. That's why manufacturing output rose by 2.4% in the last 12 months and we have the highest number employed in the sector since pre-downturn.

"Caterpillar is restructuring because the global oil price has reduced demand for their product. Nothing in our economic strategy could have reversed that," he added.

Belfast Telegraph