PRIME Minister David Cameron gave NACCO workers - makers of Hyster and Yale forklift trucks - a considerable lift on Tuesday morning when he chose the Carn company for one of his round-Britain question and answer sessions.
And he chose the occasion to announce that next year’s G8 summit conference of the world’s eight richest nations has been scheduled for the Lough Erne Holiday Resort, which delighted the management and staff of NACCO, where the workers accepted the invitation to aim a variety of questions at the PM.
He was the third Conservative premier to visit Portadown in recent decades, following in the tracks of Margaret Thatcher, who called at Fort Mahon to encourage the troops during the Troubles, and John Major who went walkabout in the town centre.
Mr Cameron set the tone of the NACCO encounter when he praised the employees for their flexibility and willingness to take a wages cut in 2008-09 to keep the firm competitive in the world market, and ultimately keep the 600 workers in employment. “You survived and have thrived,” said Mr Cameron, who pointed out that, since the factory opened in 1981, 375,000 trucks (currently 14,000 a year) had rolled off the production lines of the only major manufacturer of forklift trucks in the UK.
And, returning to the G8 summit, he pointed it was the first time that the world event - which brings together the leaders of the US, UK, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, France and Japan - would be held in Northern Ireland. The last time it was hosted in the UK was at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005.
He was about 20 minutes behind schedule at NACCO, and the first question was asked, tongue-in-cheek by production line worker Roy McKerr, “What kept you?” who added, “It would be remiss of me not to ask why ask the G8 wasn’t coming to Lurgan!” There was widespread laughter, including from the Prime Minister. After that, the questions were on the economy, taxes, broadband provision, the provision of jobs, corporation taxes, agriculture, exports, youth unemployment and training.
The thrust of Mr Cameron’s answers was that the UK must remain competitive, invest in industry, concentrate on training, get out in the world and export and generally be innovative with giants like China and Brazil emerging into the world markets. The Prime Minister made the point that agriculture soaked up 40 per cent of the European budget, “and that simply cannot continue.”
He finished by saying, “It’s significant that none of the questions were on politics or the peace process. You are more concerned with your economic future, and I am impressed with the depth of questioning.”
With NACCO having two shifts, around 300 sat in a circle while Mr Cameron answered the questions - which workers insisted were not pre-empted - and they were impressed.
Claire Nicholl, of global supplies, said, “He was very eloquent and knowledgeable. I’m impressed, and it’s a real honour for NACCO to have him as our guest.”
Christopher Montgomery, a student on placement, said, “He certainly had the facts at his fingertips, and talked without a pause on a wide range of industrial topics.”
Meanwhile, NACCO stalwart Gerry Mallon, who works in manufacturing management, said of the PM’s visit, “I started here 30 years ago as an apprentice and am really proud today - both of our products and of the fact that David Cameron saw fit to visit us. It’s a great day for NACCO and we really communicated with him, and he with us.”
Jonathan Seifert, training instructor, added, “I have been here for 20 years and this really is a red letter day. I was impressed with David Cameron’s performance - we addressed him as ‘David’, and that sums up the day.”