Stephen Kelly, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, Man­u­fac­tur­ing NI

The achieve­ments of man­u­fac­tur­ers in the Top 100 are all the more im­pres­sive given Brexit back­drop

Belfast Telegraph - Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies - - ANALYSIS -

“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

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