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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I was just moving in there.
Fujitsu has been a significant employer in Northern Ireland for over 35 years. Given the company's strategic importance, the Executive, my Department and Invest NI have always maintained a close relationship with local and parent company management at the highest levels. Invest NI liaises and works regularly with the company at an operational level as well as at a higher strategic level to help ensure that Northern Ireland plays the fullest part in the delivery of Fujitsu's worldwide corporate strategy.
Following the announcement on Tuesday 11 October that Fujitsu would be undertaking a major review of its European, Middle Eastern, Indian and African operations, I spoke directly with Mr Duncan Tait, group director and corporate executive officer of Fujitsu Japan and Fujitsu's senior executive vice president and head of Europe, Middle East, India, Africa and the Americas, to reinforce Northern Ireland's long-established relationship with Fujitsu. I also emphasised the continuing contribution and excellence of the Northern Ireland workforce as well as the competitive opportunities that investing in Northern Ireland continues to present to Fujitsu as it shapes its business for the future.
Fujitsu is seeking to determine how best to re-equip its business to enable it to best compete in the digital economy. This process will be complex and challenging. It will likely affect several thousand individuals across all of Fujitsu's European, Middle Eastern, Indian and African operations, including all the company's sites in the United Kingdom. The review will also take several months to complete. While recognising that Fujitsu's Northern Ireland operations will not be exempt from this overall review, I have tasked officials from Invest NI to continue to maintain regular communication with the company. I and my Executive colleagues will continue to engage with Fujitsu management at the very highest levels to seek to ensure the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland.
I thank the Minister for his answer and for his action thus far on the job threats at Fujitsu. He outlined to us the conversation that he had with a senior representative from Fujitsu. During that conversation, did he seek from that member of staff any comment about the quality and dedication of the Fujitsu workforce here?
I thank the Member for his question. He will be familiar, from a constituency basis, with Fujitsu's operations in Northern Ireland. There are about 250 people working at Timber Quay in Londonderry, and I think that is actually the company's biggest individual site in Northern Ireland. It is a significant employer in the north-west. The Member mentions the high skill level of the workforce there and across Fujitsu's Northern Ireland operations. Given that the review that the company announced earlier in the month is ostensibly about ensuring that it has the skills, as a business, to be equipped for the future challenges that the digital economy presents, the emphasis of my interventions and conversations will always be around the highly skilled workforce that Fujitsu has in Northern Ireland. Obviously, nobody knows that better than the company. When you are discussing skills and having a conversation about the skills of the workforce here, the company understands and appreciates it, and I think that my role as Minister is to underscore that and offer some assurance for the future.
There are opportunities from this announcement as the company looks to redistribute some employment from around Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. There may be opportunities for Northern Ireland, and I think that, with the highly skilled workforce in Fujitsu in Northern Ireland and with the strong skills pipeline that we have, there could well be opportunities for Northern Ireland to seize, even though, at first glance, this looked like bad news.
I thank the Minister for his answer so far. Fujitsu is talked about, and he mentioned possible opportunity as well as challenge in its Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and UK operations. Will the Minister seek, along with Invest NI, to work closely with Fujitsu to grow specific sectors in Northern Ireland? I am thinking particularly about fintech and cybersecurity, which are areas that we have strength and resonance in.
I thank the Member for his question. Another area that I would add to that list is agri-tech. I know that Fujitsu has been looking to get into that more, and, again, it is an area in which Northern Ireland has a standout reputation. These sorts of announcements are not good. You would rather not have them.
We needed to do, and I did, two things in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. First, I emphasised to the company at the highest possible level that Northern Ireland is a good place for it to do business, particularly, as I said to Mr Durkan, because of the skills mix that we have and the strong skills that Fujitsu has in its current workforce. Secondly, I said that Northern Ireland presents opportunities, as the company looks at adjusting and strengthening its business with an eye to the future. The Member mentioned fintech and cybersecurity; I mentioned agri-tech. We should concentrate not all but most of our efforts on the strong and emerging sectors in our economy to ensure that they take it forward into the future.
I hope so. Northern Ireland workers have the reputation for being very loyal to companies, whether indigenous or inward investors. I know that companies have to take decisions in the light of the challenges they face but I hope that our long-standing relationship — Fujitsu has had some sort of presence in Northern Ireland for 35 years — stands us in good stead. As an Executive, we have a good relationship with the company. In a previous role, I, and the First Minister and deputy First Minister, met the chairman of Fujitsu and keep in regular contact with local management.
There is also a long-standing relationship with the public sector in Northern Ireland. Members may be familiar with the fact that Fujitsu runs the Civil Service HR Connect shared service. It also provides managed services for Libraries NI and has recently secured some work from the Education Authority. At the risk of repeating myself, the best aspect of our long-standing and productive relationship is the help and support that we have given Fujitsu to help plant and grow its business in Northern Ireland through Invest NI and through our universities and colleges. As the company considers its future direction, I hope that our long-standing relationship and knowledge of what Northern Ireland offers the business will stand us in good stead and are valued by the company moving forward.
What Fujitsu does in Northern Ireland is not manufacturing, it is more around contract services, managed services and digital services. Clearly, the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland, in spite of what some commentators would have us believe, remains an integral and strong part of our economy. The sector has faced challenges over the last number of days, months and years and, unfortunately, some wish to characterise it as a sunset sector. I do not see it in that way at all; quite the opposite. In spite of some notable setbacks in recent times, employment in the sector has grown: there was a 4·1% growth in employment in the manufacturing sector as evidenced recently by the annual business register and employment survey.
Interestingly, the council with the biggest manufacturing sector is Mid Ulster. Sometimes there is a feeling that this is all very Belfast-centric, but that is not the case when it comes to manufacturing. Since 2011, Invest NI has given a significant volume of support to our manufacturing sector — £270 million. That has unlocked nearly £2 billion of investment by those companies and has secured or created 13,000 jobs across Northern Ireland. The sector is still integral and very important to our economy, and we will continue to support it in the fashion that we have done over the last five years.
I welcome the Minister's assurances that he will represent and protect the interests of hard-working, highly skilled and highly productive Fujitsu employees in Northern Ireland. Will he also do all he can to encourage Fujitsu to ensure clear communications and consultations with the employees throughout the evaluation period?
Yes. As I mentioned, I have spoken to the company's local and corporate management. Obviously, like any business, particularly in that incredibly fast-moving sector, it faces a huge number of challenges. I think that they understand. Certainly, I know that local management understands, and senior management in Japan also appreciates the work that has been done in Northern Ireland. The fact that it has grown from such a small base in Northern Ireland to having 800 employees across a range of sites — some in the Member's constituency — is testimony to the skills of the workers here. It would not have invested or grown here if it had not been for the benefits that employing people from Northern Ireland brings to its business. I am sure that, like any good employer, it will ensure that its workers are kept abreast of developments in this uncertain time.