The Manufacturing Task Force established by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and supported by three Government Departments cannot exist as a mere talking shop. Instead it must focus on developing a key list of actions to present to the Northern Ireland parties in advance of the development of the new Programme for Government. I believe the Task Force needs to take the following actions:
- We need to quantify and identify the scale of manufacturing within Mid and East Antrim in order to understand the risk to our local economy.
- We need to engage with employers and identify the risks to manufacturing businesses, whether those are energy costs, skills development, transport to overseas markets or whatever undermines the ability of business to survive, grow and develop.
- We must develop an action plan of the interventions required to support business in this area, those interventions need to be included within the programme for government.
- When challenged about the lack of inward investment requests for visits to North Antrim, DETI Ministers have said visits are facilitated at the request of the investor. If that is the case then Mid and East Antrim Borough Council must develop the ability to sell the region as a place to invest in. If it is not the role of Invest NI to do this then it is a role we must take on.
Time is of the essence, having an input into the Programme for Government before it is finalised will be much more effective than trying to change it to meet our needs after it is agreed by the parties.
The original Task Force was originally set up to address issues arising from the announcement of the closure of JTI. It took 13mths from that announcement until the first and only meeting of the group was held. The first meeting of the new Manufacturing Task Force has already been postponed once. Government Ministers were very quick to pass responsibility for this issue down to a local level. It is off their desks, it is now on ours. It is not our role to wring our hands and mourn the loss of 1000’s of jobs over the next three years. It is our role to deliver a new economic base for the region, it is our role to fight to replace them. No more delays, sustained action and commitment must define the role of this Task Force