MNI Book launched: Industrial rates remain crucial for local industry
A book by Irish News political editor John Manley has highlighted how a disparate group of Northern Ireland businessmen challenged the might of the Treasury and won! The Northern Ireland Manufacturing Focus Group campaign against the removal of Industrial de-rating brought together business, the trade s and local politicians like never before as the campaign fought to save the manufacturing sector against the imposition of a policy which would have decimated local industry. The book, ‘Campaign, Canvass and Cavalcade’ highlights how the group was set up in the north-west, and went on to become the most successful business campaigns in Northern Ireland yielding what amounted to a £50 million boost to local industry, keeping factory doors open, safeguarding jobs and helping to ensure new ones.
The book also highlights how the manufacturing sector is more important now than ever to the rebalancing of the local economy, and how the retention of industrial de-rating should be continued for the foreseeable future.
The campaign was set up to oppose the phasing out of ‘Industrial de-rating’, a policy which had helped local manufacturing offset the cost of its rates in order to invest in local jobs and innovation. The announcement of a policy by the then Direct Rule administration to phase out ‘de-rating’, and impose 100% of the rateable value of business premises, was a threat to the very existence of manufacturing here. It also highlighted the need for a local, directly accountable Assembly, and was embraced by local political parties who understood its importance after a long and highly successful campaign.
Author John Manly said that the more he got to grips with researching the campaign, the more interesting the subject matter became,
“I’ll admit that ostensibly the subject matter sounds rather dry but this is definitely a story worth telling. It has big personalities like Basil McCrea, Peter Hain, Patsy Forbes and Belfast trades ist Jimmy Donaghy and feeds into the political high drama and intrigue of the period around the suspension of devolution in 2002. From a historical point of view, it highlights how the fledgling Stormont government had high aspirations but little experience of realpolitik. Had fortuitous circumstances not intervened and the suspension of devolution created a breathing space for MLAs to reassess the impact of ending rates relief, the health of manufacturing in 2014 would have been distinctly under threat.”
Manufacturing NI Chief Executive Stephen Kelly said the publication of the book was a proud moment for Manufacturing NI, which had grown out of the NIMFG. He said that its relevance to today, where the manufacturing sector remains under real strain could not be overestimated.
“The book tells how we filled the Waterfront Hall, as businesses came together to affect political decisions for the very first time and how the political establishment was left with little choice but to back the campaign. It also tells the story of how Secretary of State Peter Hain was totally opposed to changing the policy of phasing out de-rating until he was challenged to support it by the combined might of the factory owners and the workers through the Trade , Unite. Whether or not his decision to set up a review of the policy had anything to do with his desire to be deputy Prime Minister at the time is open to question. But fundamentally, it tells the story of how important the manufacturing sector is to the economy and to the people of Northern Ireland”.
“Thankfully in 2014, we still have a manufacturing sector employing some 80,000 people, and that is in no small part as a result of our campaign to keep industrial rates down. As we climb out of recession, not only do we need to retain de-rating, but we must address a host of issues, primarily the cost of energy. This book in many ways is a punctuation mark but it is also a call to action – our manufacturing sector is hugely important economically and socially and we call on our Executive, including the DFP, DETI departments and committees, to support our campaign to create the most competitive region in Europe in which to start, sustain and grow a manufacturing business thus creating wealth and work. Our industrial rates campaign goes on.”
The book is published by Blackstaff Press and is available from Manufacturing Northern Ireland’s website.