Belfast Telegraph

Red tape stifling manufacturing industry growth in Northern Ireland

AJ Power owner has 'given up' fighting to expand firm

By John Mulgrew

Government rules and red tape are making it "impossible" for manufacturers here to expand, one industry boss has warned.

And Ashley Pigott, managing director of generator maker AJ Power, said that after seven years battling to expand his now international firm's Co Armagh base, he's "more or less given up".

He also said there is a severe lack of an "overall manufacturing strategy" in Northern Ireland.

The former FG Wilson director bemoaned difficulties in acquiring government-owned land around his Craigavon headquarters.

Those concerns surround "onerous" lease conditions, build schedules and a lack of control over planning.

"The rules have been changed and changed over the years, and it makes it impossible."

AJ Power opened its doors 12 years ago but now employs 125 people around the world.

It has also just opened up a new office in Sweden.

But Mr Pigott said the Executive lacked any "proactive" approach in dealing with manufacturing in Northern Ireland.

"Within Government, there doesn't seem to be an overall manufacturing strategy, it's reactive and nothing is proactive," he said.

He said he had been trying to expand the firm's base in Craigavon since 2008.

"It's been there in the background, and you keep coming back. After seven years, you more or less give up," he said. "You keep spending money, and might end up with a facility which doesn't equal a decent return," he said.

Mr Pigott (63) began his career at FG Wilson in 1973, when just 12 people were employed by the firm.

Manufacturing here has gone through one of its darkest periods recently, with almost 1,100 jobs lost in the industry in the space of just days.

Following criticism over a lack of response to the jobs crisis, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said he was establishing an advisory group to report on the challenges facing the sector, including energy costs.

There have also been calls for action to help Northern Ireland's manufacturing industry from the worlds of politics, business and economics.

Caterpillar NI revealed it was cutting 100 jobs, while Schrader Electronics is letting 42 temporary staff go. And last month, manufacturing was shaken further with the announcement that Michelin is pulling out of Ballymena, with the loss of 862 jobs.

One of the reasons cited for the tyre maker's shock exit was the cost of energy in Northern Ireland.

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has said he has met NIE Networks, the System Operator for NI, and the Utility Regulator to discuss the energy costs facing business.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the new taskforce being set up by Mr Bell needed to be "quick, action-focused and representative".

Belfast Telegraph