Mr Robin Swann MLA, the Ulster Unionist Party North Antrim Assemblyman and UUP Chief Whip, has accused the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition of “a blatant kick in the teeth for workers after the Assembly voted against a much-needed Manufacturing Strategy which could have jump-started the sector, especially in North Antrim”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also Chairman of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee, said the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition “should hang its head in shame”, stressing that “the Assembly vote against the Manufacturing Strategy was an unnecessary ‘own goal’ which cast a dark shadow over efforts to grow vital sector”.
Assemblyman Swann and his South Antrim UUP colleague Steve Aiken MLA tabled the first Opposition motion urging the new DUP/Sinn Fein Government to create a ‘stand-alone’ Manufacturing Strategy.
Mr Swann said he was concerned that some of the MLAs “tried to portray the debate and the motion as talking Northern Ireland down, but it was far from it; it was to demonstrate our belief and ambition for the manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland”.
Mr Swann added: “I am highly critical of a number of statistics used by the DUP Economy Minister, who spoke of the great successes we have in manufacturing and the current numbers employed: ‘over 80,000 at this time’.
“Let us not forget that those figures include the large number of people in my constituency who still work for JTI Gallagher and Michelin who have not yet lost their jobs. There are blows and job losses coming to manufacturing and employers that have not been included in those statistics.
“The Assembly vote to subsume manufacturing as only a component of wider Economic Strategy is a missed opportunity to transition to a high-value added economy.
“The lack of ‘stand-alone’ strategy risks continued inaction in face of challenges and possible job losses,” warned Assemblyman Swann.
Reacting to news that the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to amend a motion calling for a ‘stand-alone’ Manufacturing Strategy and instead subsume it into a wider Economic Strategy, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Davy Thompson said: “Coming at the very beginning of the Assembly term, this is an unnecessary ‘own-goal’ and represents another missed opportunity to secure the future of this vital sector.
“Manufacturing contributes almost £20 billion in exports for Northern Ireland – revenue necessary to sustain quality public services as well as tens of thousands of value-added jobs within the supply chain.
“The decision to vote down proposals for a dedicated, stand-alone strategy for its future development casts a shadow over the sector at a time when unions and employers are collaborating closely to secure investment and growth.
“Only recently, Unite joined with Manufacturing NI to call on Stormont to unite behind this motion arguing that the future of the sector was too important to be made into a political football.
“Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector has suffered a series of devastating closures and job losses over the past 18 months. The Executive’s response has been largely reactive as opposed to pro-active in the face of these announcements.
“In many cases, decisions to disinvest from Northern Ireland could have been reversed or at least reduced with a timely and pro-active approach.
“The sector is faced with a range of challenges including high energy and transport costs, inadequate skills and educational provision – areas where the NI Executive could play a much more positive role.
“Unite believes only a dedicated Manufacturing Strategy will bring the focus and oversight necessary to ensure real action to meet these challenges and secure a positive future.
“Having manufacturing only one element of an economic strategy risks facilitating continued inaction and the threat of further job losses in this sector,” Mr Thompson concluded.