Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive, Manufacturing NI
The achievements of manufacturers in the Top 100 are all the more impressive given Brexit backdrop
“Overall, the cumulative impact from a ‘no deal’ scenario is expected to be more severe in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, and to last for longer.” …there is an expectation of disruption to closely interwoven supply chains and increasing costs that would affect the viability of many businesses across Northern Ireland... This could result in business failure, and/or relocation to Ireland with knock-on consequences for the Northern Ireland economy and unemployment.”
Astark warning is given above from the paper published by the UK Government in February, Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on March 29 2019. Against that backdrop, the existential threat posed by a potential no deal Brexit, it is all the more extraordinary that Northern Ireland’s manufacturing firms have continued to create more wealth and work as demonstrated in the Belfast Telegraph’s Top 100 report.
All of Northern Ireland’s business, trade and agricultural bodies, the unions and indeed community and voluntary sector agree that ‘no deal’ is not an option.
It is why we have united as never before to ensure that those taking decisions about
how the UK leaves the EU have heard our collective voice. We’ve met them all. Walked through every door, even kicked a few doors in to make sure we were listened to and not just spoken at.
Business, by necessity, focuses on the practicalities rather than the politics. A pragmatic approach driven by the reality of having to pay wages and suppliers.
A new trade, veterinary and customs relationship cannot be agreed until the UK leaves the EU. But to get there, a Withdrawal Agreement is required. If the cost is the comfort of the ‘backstop’ in order secure the transition period for the whole of the UK and for these negotiations to continue to the next, more productive phase then we believe that is acceptable and workable.
For instance, alongside colleagues in retail and logistics, we have calculated that only nine loads per day would require checking on ferries between Great Britain and NI – that’s just one vehicle for every three ferry sailings. Indeed, as many loads go unaccompanied, it means just four drivers would be stopped daily.
Any issues or gaps in the agreement are not insurmountable.
The costs of Brexit will be borne by our manufacturing community through managing migration, origin certification, customs costs and delays and potentially tariffs and non-tariff barriers. HMRC estimate that would add £16bn per year, every year, to UK firms.
For NI, this is an estimated £300-£400m per year, that is around 20% of profits from the local sector. With added costs and complexity coming hurtling at us, our manufacturers in NI and across the UK need a deal to remain competitive. No deal is simply not an option.
But it’s not all about Brexit. The absence of decision making from an Executive and scrutiny in the Chamber and Committee Rooms at Stormont are biting too.
The infrastructure project pool, which our construction materials manufacturers rely on, is drying up — roads projects, schools, stadia are delayed or stalled needing political intervention or impetus to get them over the line.
Our energy policy is outdated and increasingly irrelevant. Of particular concern is a lack of scrutiny for major changes in the energy market at a time where power prices are now back to the second most expensive in Europe. Decisions are being made but the only accountability is visible on the hefty bills our members see each month.
Firms can’t get the labour or skills they need to meet the success they have in sales. They are taxed for apprenticeships but see none of their money unlike their competitors or indeed their sister factories in Great Britain.
More generally we need an industrial strategy to guide the Departments and their agencies particularly as money for supporting new investments, skills development and market development is reducing as pressures come on the Block Grant. The economy has moved on and other locations are moving with it but we’re stuck with plans on the drafting table.
Employment levels in manufacturing have recovered to 2009 levels, sales are up and exports increased. Our firms have proven to be more than capable of making great progress when the winds of fortune are blowing in their favour. But those winds are beginning to change direction.
In these days of great uncertainty, it has never been more important to have great leaders. People of with clarity, wisdom and determination. Those who can confidently make timely decisions, focussed on the things within their control that matter and with the strength of character to bring people with them.
We have those in our great manufacturing community. They make stuff, sell stuff and get stuff done.
Quite simply, we need our leaders back in position in Stormont. And, as we did with the Brexit challenge, the business community will be there to offer support and ideas. We are prepared to help create and protect the space the parties need to not only rebuild relationships with each other but to get stuff done.
BY NECESSITY, ALL BUSINESSES FOCUS ON PRAGMATISM AND NOT POLITICS. STAFF AND SUPPLIERS NEED TO BE PAID NO MATTER WHAT ELSE HAPPENS. BUT AS WELL AS A BREXIT DEAL, WE NEED TO SEE AN EXECUTIVE BACK. THEY TOO NEED TO GET STUFF DONE