Members will be aware that a new economic strategy was being developed to align with the Executive’s draft Programme for Government. The strategy, which sets out an ambitious, long-term vision to transform Northern Ireland into a globally competitive economy that works for everyone, was nearing the point at which it could be released for public consultation. We now face a critically important period for the Northern Ireland economy. Now more than ever, there needs to be a strong strategic framework for growth in place. I can therefore confirm to the House that I have released today, through my Department, the draft industrial strategy for public consultation. The consultation will run for 12 weeks, and I encourage all interested parties to engage in the consultation process.
I am well aware of the manufacturing job losses in the Member's constituency. I know that they have had a devastating impact on the local community and are still working their way through the local economy. The Member, if he downloads a copy of the draft industrial strategy and reads it overnight — it is good bedtime reading for him — will see that there is a significant emphasis on the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland. I do not dismiss for a second the impact that the sort of job losses we have seen in Ballymena has on individuals, families and local communities, but the manufacturing sector has still performed strongly across the board in Northern Ireland nonetheless. In 2015, there were around 80,000 jobs in the sector, and that is the best since 2008. Sales were up by 1·7% in 2014. In 2015, exports by the sector were up by £350 million, and output has also been performing strongly. I am immensely proud, despite the difficulties globally and locally, of the success of manufacturers across Northern Ireland, including Wrightbus, in the Member's constituency, which has the honour of being able to say that it constructs one in three of all London's famous red buses. It is that sort of prowess in manufacturing that you will see emphasised, underlined, highlighted and, importantly, supported in the new draft industrial strategy published today.