New ‘Manufacturing Taskforce’ to meet

Mid and East Antrim Borough Mayor Councillor Billy Ashe, pictured with Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell and Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey who gave agreement to the co-ordination of a Manufacturing Taskforce in November. (Submitted Picture).
Mid and East Antrim Borough Mayor Councillor Billy Ashe, pictured with Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell and Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey who gave agreement to the co-ordination of a Manufacturing Taskforce in November. (Submitted Picture).

A ‘manufacturing taskforce’ set up to deal with recent local job losses in the borough will have its inugural meeting this month.

Thursday, January 21, is the provisional date set by Mid & East Antrim Council’s Economic Growth & Development Committee for the new taskforce to convene in Ballymena and they also decided it will do so with four additional councillor members - Alderman Gregg McKeen, Alderman Mrs Maureen Morrow, Councillor Jim Brown and Councillor John Stewart - to ensure borough-wide representation.

Back in November, following the closure announcement from Michelin with the loss of 860 jobs by 2018, Council’s Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy, and the Mayor, Councillor Billy Ashe, met with Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell and Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey and it was agreed that the development of a Manufacturing Task Force was the best way forward to address a wide range of issues in the manufacturing sector of Mid & East Antrim.

During the meeting additional support for the proposed Manufacturing Task Force by way of personnel was offered from both Invest NI and DEL.

The same month members of Council’s Economic Growth & Development Committee approved the widening of the ‘JTI Task and Finish Group’ to encompass all manufacturing activity in the Mid and East Antrim area.

It was also agreed that the Mayor would act as Chair of the new group featuring a proposed membership of nine councillors, nine officials from across the Public Sector and additional industry involvement, such as Michelin and JTI, as and when required.

However, recognising that the decline in manufacturing is not specific to the Ballymena area, Economic Growth & Development Committee members agreed an officer recommendation at their latest meeting to increase the number of councillor members on the Task Force to include two from each of the legacy Council areas of Carrickfergus and Larne.

It is scheduled to meet in Ballymena on January 21 at 2pm.

Last month, the Mayor revealed to The Times that closures by major local employers such as JTI will hit rates revenue by 2.1% resulting in a “significant impact for Council”.

However, Mid and East Antrim’s First Citizen pointed out that the local authority has “set direction” that the 2016 rate increase will be no higher than last year’s rise of 1.5%.