Very Challenging Times Ahead

The continuing COVID emergency has turned our family and working lives upside down and as we look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel created by the rapid vaccination programme across the world let’s recognise and acknowledge that for better or worse the last 11 months have changed us and society forever. 

The virus will be with us for some time yet, if not indefinitely, so we must continue to protect our families, our friends, our work colleagues and ourselves from the virus. 

As before UK Government and the NI Executive continue to recognise our Mineral Products and Manufacturing sectors as essential supply chains. The Irish Government however have legislated that Construction in the Republic of Ireland should close apart from essential maintenance and social housing work. MPANI continue to advise and inform our Members about best practice in managing the risks created by Covid 19. 

We continue to meet regularly through Zoom, WebEx and Teams with our Committees, with Public Sector bodies and with other NI Business organisations. I passionately believe that as an Industry and collection of businesses within MPANI we can be proud of how we’ve managed all the challenges before us so far but we must redouble our efforts to keep everyone safe until the Covid risk is greatly diminished. I’m sure the experiences will strengthen our Industry, our Association and the relationships within it well into the future. 

It’s now a number of weeks since the end of the Brexit Transition Period on January 1st and as we predicted and feared there has been disruption to the long established logistical supply chains between Northern Ireland and GB, and also between the Republic of Ireland and GB. 

While many of the problems experienced in the first two weeks of January have now eased work continues between NI Business, the UK Government and the EU to reach solutions for the ending of the “grace period” at the end of March when retailers and their supply chain will have significantly more paper work to complete which could mean many GB based suppliers refusing to supply to NI. This would be a totally unacceptable situation and would have a detrimental effect including increasing costs for the export of NI products and materials being exported into the GB construction market. 

Having attended NI Business Brexit Working Group zoom/teams meetings, almost on a daily basis, with the UK Government, NI Executive, the Irish Government and the EU TASK Group it is alarming to note the lack of preparedness, planning and knowledge of both GB and RoI Businesses relating to the operation of the NI Protocol. You can be assured that no stone will left unturned by the NI Business Group to ensure that the more damaging aspects of the NI Protocol will be mitigated, derogated and compensated for. 

If we achieve our objectives then what is a “sows ear” of an NI Protocol can become a “silk purse” of an outcome with GB, EU and Rest of World based companies investing in NI to get  tariff free and less bureaucratic access to both markets.

Despite the continuing Covid 19 and Brexit challenges the day to day work of the Association continues. Since the last publication of Plant MPANI has published its 2020/21 Industry Journal and produced two excellent information videos about our Mineral Products Industry in NI and its importance to the local economy and sustaining local communities. The second video showcases our commitment to providing quality products and jobs and showcases our stewardship of the environment and commitment to a greener net zero energy future. 

Throughout 2021, and further into the future, we will continue to address the challenges of our aging workforce and the of recruiting younger people into our Industry.  You can view for yourself our “Actions and Achievements of 2020” and the MPANI and Our Sub Committee Objectives for 2021.

Focus Areas and Objectives for 2021

Role – Facilitator to/from Government influence

Objective 1 – Continue to work with the Department of the Economy, GSNI, Strategic Planning Division and local Council Planning staff to establish a Northern Ireland Minerals Forum. 

Objective 2 – Continue our work with IoQ, RTPI and others to build the knowledge and capacity of local planning officers to ensure their understanding of the industry results in a fast and efficient service to MPANI members.

Objective 3 – Work to influence the outcome of the local development draft plan policy statements to ensure that the long term sustainability of the Mineral Products Industry and its right to operate are protected. Encourage the Industry to supply the relevant aggregate resource and production information to enable Councils to develop local mineral plans. 

Objective 4 – Work with regulatory authorities within Northern Ireland to ensure a level playing field for industry and clear recognition for responsible operators. 

Objective 5 – Respond to Consultation Papers on issues that affect our Members.

Objective 6 – Continue to work with Northern Ireland Construction Group (NICG) partners to improve the communication of the pipeline of infrastructure work, improve skills within construction and see increased public and private investment in the maintenance and development of our roads, water and energy infrastructure.

Role – Education internal/external

Objective 1 – To advise and inform the industry on its legal obligations under health and safety law to improving performance on reducing incidents of harm continues. We will continue working with other partners to assist Members in dealing with the Management of Mental Health and COVID 19 prevention matters for all who work in the Industry. 

Objective 2 – To develop and deliver training, competence assessment and Level 3 and above Apprenticeships in partnership with IoQ, IAT, CIHT, MPQC, CITBNI and others to raise skill levels across all sectors that MPANI represent and with customers who use our members products.

Objective 3 – Using our video resources and those of local Members we will continue to engage with, present too and assist schools in the delivery of the GCSE in Construction, particularly covering the areas of the sustainable and responsible supply of construction materials.

Objective 4 – To promote our MPA Good Neighbour Scheme and to assist Members in engaging with their local community stakeholders. 

Objective 5 – To take every opportunity to engage with political decision makers to highlight the essential contribution the construction materials sector makes to the local economy.

Objective 6 – Work with key stakeholders and our Young ensure that Leaders Group to promote diversity and the important role of women within the Construction Materials Industry.

Objective 7 – Work with all relevant stakeholders to inform and advise our Members on energy efficiency and reducing their carbon emissions on the road to Net Zero by 2050.  

Role – Protect & expand market

Objective 1 – Work with Public Sector Agencies, including local Councils, and other construction representative bodies to promote the use of quality assured materials and responsibly sourced construction materials. 

Objective 2 – Be an active participant in the promotion of UK Concrete.

Objective 3 – Advise and inform our Members as they manage the impact of Brexit and ensure that no additional barriers are placed to placing their products on the GB and EU Markets.

Objective 4 – Sustain and Increase the MPANI Membership.

Stay Safe

Finally, on behalf of Fiona and myself can I thank all of you for your continued support and wish you and your family a very safe, healthy and successful year ahead. I certainly look forward to seeing you all face to face as early as possible in 2021.