Paul gosling at the BelTel has an editorial (which they call a blog) about Why Belfast Is Getting All The Jobs.
This is predicated on the recent loss of 900 jobs at the JTI plant in Ballymena. But the jobs aren’t going to Belfast, they’re going to Poland and Romania.
He bemoans that Northern Ireland’s once-great industries are now relegated to service and contact centres. But this isn’t Belfast’s fault and he’s conflating two different forces here.
Large industries enjoyed outside Belfast in the past for two reasons.
- The first was that property was much cheaper and they needed vast swathes of property to spawn their buildings and (due to the state of rural public transport) copious car parks for their copious staff. Any spare space in Belfast was pretty much taken up by Shorts/Bombardier and Harland and Wolff in East Belfast.
- The second was that there were regional assistance grants to convince these companies to locate outside Belfast. In effect, they were bribed to go there. The Independent Review of Economic Policy in 2009 specifically recommended against that. It just wasn’t economically feasible to send these companies far away from 60% of the population.
Northern Ireland should be on a par with the rest of the UK with regards to profit centres but unlike the rest of the UK, we’re sharing a land border with an EU state with a 12.5% corporation tax rate. We’re also the poorest region of the UK and we have the highest costs of living per head. Where we excel is not in profit centres and nor is it in low wage, government subsidised contact centres – but in research and development. Yes, these are cost centres but they are also knowledge centres and their value to an FDI is immense if the costs are reasonable. At the moment, however, we’re competing with software centres in the BRIC countries because we’ve lost our way. We can’t compete with low wage countries in Europe or beyond because it’s expensive to live here.
Paul can moan about how there’s low educational attainment on one hand and on the other hand we lose a third of our higher attaining students to other regions of the UK and Ireland but ultimately it’s the political situation that makes that so. And until all of the people who keep voting for these mouth-breathers in Stormont actually change their habits, we will continue to lose our smartest and not have the resources to educate the remainder. We can also moan about how other regions in Northern Ireland aren’t getting their fair share but read the IREP report – traditionally those areas had been getting more than their fair share for years. Whose fault is it that they didn’t exploit that opportunity? Whose fault is it that we have such a divided society? Whose fault is it that we have to have two of everything? Whose fault? It’s your fault, you dopes.
We have to face realities. Real estate is a premium with rising rates and we will find more companies wanting to reduce the amount of square footage they have to pay for. This means knowledge workers and contact workers. They will want workers who can make their way via cheap public transport (an oxymoron in this country as well). They’ll want workers who live close. They’ll also want to settle in an area where there is a cluster of other companies and their workers – because it’s easier to hire people that way.
There’s an injustice in Ballymena of course. Part of it is the same efforts that cost us dearly with the shipyards as we tried to maintain them but arguably ship-building is a noble profession. The manufacture of cigarettes and tobacco products is not something we should be proud of and though everyone could see the writing on the wall with the JTI acquisition, few chose to pay heed to it.
The government knew this would happen but did nothing just as they always do nothing. DETI and DEL could have come out of the gates swinging with a re-education programme but they didn’t. This was something they could have done when Nortel shed 2000 people back in the early noughties and it was something they could have done when Pattons and F G Wilson faltered. But they did nothing.
Yesterday I was speaking to Sinclair Stockman after a meeting with Deloitte. The meeting was regarding the digital economies we have in Northern Ireland. These economies are not for everyone because they are specialised but I mentioned to Sinclair the missed opportunity for DEL and DETI. I also mentioned that with Ballymena Council’s new hub plans and the presence of the ECOS Centre in the district there was a real opportunity for the Universities and Colleges to deliver a real skills boost into the region for the highly skilled engineers at Gallahers. Get them on the renewables train. This could be in the manufacture of renewable fuels, the development of new methods of heat or gas extraction from waste, bio-digesters or whatever. There is an opportunity to start training them now on a day-release scheme from Gallahers.
The Dutch government have a policy when it comes to new trends on the market. They will intervene to create winners. There are hundreds of people in the North of Ireland who could do with that sort of intervention.