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We should celebrate success of manufacturers


Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI

The manufacturing industry is flourishing across the province

The manufacturing industry is flourishing across the province

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI

The Review of Public Administration (RPA) saw our new 11 'super-councils' emerge in the spring and brought with it a greater sense of how economies are made up right across the province.

An incredible 27.5% of jobs in the new Mid-Ulster and more than one in five jobs in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council areas are a manufacturing job.

Indeed more than half of the new councils beat the Northern Ireland average of 11% of jobs. And manufacturing has broken through the 80,000 mark recovering from jobs lost in the recession quicker than any other sector.

These are jobs in mostly homemade companies with excellent leadership, making great products with great people and selling to markets at home and abroad.

These jobs are building strong local communities, providing work and creating wealth where people want to live, set up home, build families and contribute to their local area.

And, given manufacturing's impact on exports, the local supply chain, sub-contractors and services we really should be cherishing and celebrating the sector.

While there are no official local GDP figures, manufacturing is said to be around 13% of our economy.

The EU has an ambition of reindustrialising Europe with a target is 20% of GDP. Hitting that target and increasing our GDP would transform communities right across Northern Ireland but we won't get there unless we create a cost competitive environment through a new cross cutting industrial strategy.

For us, at the heart of a new industrial strategy should be a long term commitment to industrial derating.

A target on energy prices to be competitive within Europe and a commitment to create a labour environment - skills development and employment law - which facilitates and encourages long term, permanent jobs to be created.

We are happy to contribute to creating a cross cutting manufacturing strategy, as are the unions.

We collectively recognise that strong economies require a strong, exporting and successful manufacturing sector.

The current NI Executive's commitment to industrial derating has saved firms and it is important that any new Programme for Government in 2016 continues to support this policy which retains these critical provincial manufacturing jobs.

It will also send a positive investment signal to those considering expanding and bringing more jobs online.

In energy, the Gas to the West project is getting closer and electricity prices have fallen.

The Utility Regulator's excellent work on NIE Price Control, backed by the Competition and Markets Authority, has effectively frozen network charges allowing the drop in gas commodity prices for our generation market to be felt by customers.

Competition is having a positive impact as we witness significant amounts of switching with customers opting for the best price driven by low margin, high volume electricity suppliers.

It pays to shop around.

There's also a chance for energy users to participate in the market and reduce the net cost through the use of their back-up generation and demand side units. But it's certainly not the time for regulators, policymakers or energy companies to take their eye off the ball.

There's uncertainty around the redesign of the all-island Single Electricity Market. Bills will rise by £9m per year from January as customers are forced to pay for the refurb of Ballylumford.

The Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme has been extended for at least another year.

And the threat the cost of renewables could double or even treble from 2017.

The past eight years have been an incredibly difficult for manufacturing. But through great leadership, hard work and positive policy decisions by the Executive, we have seen manufacturing begin to recover.

Next year's election and the Programme for Government will hopefully set a course for continued growth.

Stephen Kelly is chief executive of Manufacturing NI

Belfast Telegraph