JOE GILL: Bombardier’s Belfast staff need better support

As head of a company that has true pan-European credentials, his views should be heeded, and especially by the aerospace industry in the North, writes Joe Gill.

A Bombardier worker in Belfast at a union rally held at the factory gates last week. Picture: PA.

Airbus is a huge company and employs 130,000 people worldwide.

Tom Enders, its chief executive, explicitly warned that an exit from the single market and customs union would threaten future investment in UK facilities.

The reasons are simple. Large manufacturing companies, like Airbus, with factories across Europe, need seamless movement of goods and people, as they build planes.

Airbus manufactures all the wings for its commercial aircraft in Wales and ships them to France to be connected with fuselages and engines.

Any interruption, whatsoever, to that process, inhibits efficiency and affects the competitiveness of its planes.

Being outside the single market and customs unions would significantly disrupt the physical and data supply chain that underpins Airbus’ ability to compete.

Other parts of the Airbus system in continental Europe are watching this closely. Airbus invests billions in updating and expanding its manufacturing capabilities.

Factories in Germany, France, and Spain will be offering their facilities for the next wave of group investment.

If they get it, UK factories could suffer.

This all matters to Ireland for another reason. The Bombardier factory in Belfast is a shining light in the North, where the private sector is far smaller than in other economies.

That factory makes wings for the new technology C Series regional jet.

That jet was at serious risk of failure last year and, if it had collapsed, the largest private sector employer in the North would have been in deep trouble.

Instead, Airbus swooped in and acquired a majority equity stake in the C Series programme, from Bombardier.

All other things being normal, this is unequivocal good news.

Airbus has the breadth and depth to give the C Series marketing muscle and it will now use its global marketing and support infrastructure to sell the regional jet to new buyers.

However, if the UK leaves the single market and customs union, where will Belfast stand in Airbus’ plans?

How much risk is there that those wings could end up being produced elsewhere in Europe?

The unintended consequences of political decisions are now being played out across the corporate world in the UK.

Car manufacturers, engineering companies, food manufacturers, and many others, have started laying out the true consequences of exiting the single market and customs union.

The Scottish government has published a detailed report on the adverse and stark economic consequences of leaving the single market. Yet, not an iota of quality analysis has been produced in the North.

Instead, fatuous political finger-pointing and the gaping hole caused by a collapsed Northern Assembly leave the people of that economy without rational analysis.

Food and aerospace engineering are two great, private-sector components of the economy in the North.

They both have to make their voices heard, as the critical negotiations that are key to their long-term success now unfold. Relying on their political masters, no matter what hue, is simply not enough.

If that Bombardier factory was in the south, and we were leaving the single market and customs union, I suspect there would be huge political, industry, trade union and media pressure being applied to ensure this key piece of engineering prowess would be nurtured and supported.

Political delegations would be trooping to Airbus headquarters in support of its operations. Instead, the silence is deafening.

It’s as if everyone is wary about backing a business that is intertwined with the sensitive politics of Brexit, the North, and the construction of the UK government.

The people in that Belfast aerospace factory need much better support.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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