Belfast Telegraph

Bombardier's Belfast base needs 'right buyer' says minister

For sale: Bombardier in Belfast
For sale: Bombardier in Belfast

By Richard Wheeler

Bombardier's Northern Ireland operation must be sold to the "right buyer", a minister has said, amid pleas for the UK Government to guarantee the site's manufacturing future.

Andrew Stephenson said the Government has asked the Canadian manufacturing giant to explain its decision, which the firm has said is a strategic move so it can focus on its transportation division.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy added that he recognised this was "unwelcome news" for the Northern Irish workforce and it was "deeply regrettable" they faced further uncertainty about their future.

Mr Stephenson added: "We have been assured by Bombardier that they are committed to finding the right buyer and will not rush to sell at any price."

He later told MPs: "It's important we find the right buyer for this company. This company is a company with a good order book, it is a profitable company, and like other companies in the aerospace sector it has huge growth potential in the coming years."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd said the Moroccan government confirmed Bombardier's Casablanca operations will continue after the firm sells its plant there. He added: "We do now look to the minister to give the same kind of assurance to the people of Northern Ireland, to the people of the United Kingdom and beyond that Bombardier will make sure that the present workforce, the present skills base and the present production will continue unscathed."

Mr Stephenson said the Government's priority was to protect the highly skilled jobs and help any of the workforce affected by the decision, adding he will be visiting Bombardier tomorrow.

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Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sherman said the news "is a disaster for British industry and British aerospace", adding this was a "sign of what is going to happen to hi-tech industries" with more set to move out of Britain, "taking their investment" with them. He said this "isn't the canary singing, it has fallen off its perch".

DUP MP Sammy Wilson noted that Bombardier's lease was due to be renewed this year, adding: "When it was privatised, a peppercorn rent was made available for the site - it is a very land-intensive industry - which is a fraction of a per cent of what the commercial rent would be. That could be a deal breaker when it comes to the sale of the site.

"What discussions has the minister had, or will he have, with the Belfast Harbour Commissioners about setting a level of rent which ensures that operations can continue on the site?"

Mr Stephenson replied: "Three weeks into the job, I have not had any conversations with them yet, but I look forward to doing so because, as he says, that could be very worthwhile as we look to secure the future of this company and all those whose livelihoods depend on it."

Belfast Telegraph