Minister Foster and I have been working proactively with JTI Gallaher to discuss its plans and the needs of its workforce in an evolving situation. My officials are exploring the use of the European globalisation adjustment fund in these circumstances. This provides support to people losing their jobs as a result of major structural changes in world trade patterns due to globalisation — for example, when a large company shuts or production is moved outside the EU. The fund has strict eligibility criteria, and my officials are continuing to explore whether these would be met in this case. I plan to build on the work of my officials and to include this in discussions when I am in Brussels later this month for meetings with the European Commission.
The Department has a portfolio of services available to assist JTI Gallaher employees. The careers service and employment service offer advice and guidance. This includes the redundancy advice service, which, in partnership with other organisations, provides information and advice on available options and support. The Northern Regional College has liaised with JTI Gallaher on the help that it can provide. In addition to its ongoing programme, which is open to all, the college is offering a tailored approach of conducting skills audits of the workforce. This would help individuals to obtain relevant qualifications, either by accrediting their experience or providing the training necessary to gain relevant skills and qualifications.
If the Member is asking me to be realistic, I would say that our prospects are narrow. Nonetheless, we will seek to explore all the options. It was interesting that, when the announcement of the redundancies was made last year, virtually every party, in some form or other, rushed to the media to say that the European globalisation fund will be the answer to our problems, without necessarily checking through the issues. We have to bear a few things in mind. One is that we have to ensure that the jobs actually qualify. If jobs in Ballymena are being relocated elsewhere within the European Union, those job losses will not count towards eligibility. It is jobs that are lost to outside the European Union that are eligible. On the other hand, we can also include the supply chain, so we may just make that threshold. We then have to ensure that any bid that we make is approved and processed by the Department for Work and Pensions in London. As the Member will appreciate, it has to be channelled through the national member state, which, in our case, is obviously the UK. To that end, the UK Government have not previously supported any application to the fund. We also have to ensure that what we put in place in Northern Ireland is additional to our existing provision. We will have to make sure that we match fund the European globalisation fund from local resources or the company itself.
We have had a number of discussions with the company and floated with it the potential of its making some contribution, in the event that a successful bid could be made. We have had discussions with the Commission about how best to make an application. I intend to take those forward further next week when I am in Brussels. We are not yet in the position whereby we would be expected to make any application. We have to wait until the job losses become a reality, which will not be until May 2016. However, if we feel that we have a reasonable prospect of a successful application, we will seek to proceed on a shadow basis and get a provisional indication of the likely success or otherwise of a bid so that we can process a bid very quickly when the timing allows us to make one, which is once the redundancies become a reality.
If we put aside the discussions on a bid to the globalisation fund, what discussions has the Minister had with JTI Gallaher to ensure that it leaves a lasting legacy in north Antrim and Ballymena in particular? That would be cold consolation, but it would at least help the community and people there.
Speaking for Arlene Foster and myself, we have had full cooperation from the company. It has been accessible to us and is acutely aware of the impact of the loss of jobs on the lives of individual workers, their families and the wider community. The company is more than happy to facilitate the work that we do as a Department, and also that of other agencies and the Northern Regional College's skills audit and retraining. It is important that Members bear in mind the key issue of the timing around when this will take place, because production is continuing in the factory and, if anything, will increase as it works towards the change in directives, so it is important that we do not interrupt the company's natural flow of business. At the same time, though, we can move quickly to intervene at the appropriate time. We stand ready to go when the company deems it appropriate for us to do so.