One of Northern Ireland’s most influential and respected manufacturing leaders has called on the public and private sectors to “buy local” in a bid to minimise the effects that COVID-19 is having on the local supply chain across the province.
The call comes after Health Minister Robin Swann MLA reached out to local manufacturers to help produce more ventilators. And according to Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Manufacturing Task Force, the potential for Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector to aid in the fight against COVID-19 extends far beyond medical supplies.
“I have been hugely encouraged by the efforts of local manufacturers to really step up in recent weeks to ensure that the supply chain is maintained, and demand is met,” he said. “From manufacturers of medical supplies, cleaning and hygiene products, to hundreds of firms across the food supply chain, the sector has never been more important to Northern Ireland.
“Whilst the Health Minister’s call for local companies to assist with demand for ventilators is to be welcomed, we must remember of course that Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector can offer a vast array of crucial and very relevant products as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve.”
Mr Whitehurst pointed to the recently launched BuySupplyNI portal as “an invaluable source of information for buyers and suppliers alike” at this current time.
“Our Manufacturing Task Force recently launched a portal which aims to simplify the process of connecting buyers to potential suppliers within the manufacturing sector across Northern Ireland. ‘BuySupplyNI’ is a free-to-use portal which helps link large buyers in the manufacturing sector with local suppliers.
“This means we can help forge the links to connect businesses on a local level, particularly for the items that the government is deeming essential and in high demand at this time,” he said.
Led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, BuySupplyNI is an industry-led collaboration developed between businesses, councils and colleges. The purpose-built portal was built to help strengthen the local supply chain, identifying locally-based innovative suppliers that can respond to the needs of buyers across the province, therefore leading to reduced lead times for delivery of goods. Ultimately, this will deliver significant benefits to large manufacturing firms, local SME suppliers and wider the local economy.
Mr Whitehurst, previously plant manager for Michelin and operations director for Wrightbus in Ballymena, encouraged local manufacturing firms to continue developing solutions to address the requirements of the fight against COVID-19.
“Northern Ireland boasts thousands of indigenous manufacturing and engineering firms who are world-leaders in what they do. Now, more than ever, their solutions-based approach most come to the fore, underpinned by excellence in R&D and innovation, agility and solid supply chain management.
“By augmenting and repurposing their operations where possible, they may be able to help save lives. There are companies out there who have the expertise and experience to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done.”