£100m ma­jor works scheme gets go-ahead after de­lays due to Brexit

The North­ern Ire­land In­vest­ment Fund will im­prove in­fra­struc­ture

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY JOHN MUL­GREW

A £100M in­vest­ment fund which was at risk of be­ing lost due to Brexit now looks set to get the go ahead after more than a year of de­lays, the Belfast Tele­graph can re­veal.

A fund man­ager has now been ap­pointed to run the North­ern Ire­land In­vest­ment Fund, which was out­lined in the Ex­ec­u­tive’s Bud­get, with more than £55m orig­i­nally set aside for the in­fra­struc­ture scheme. It has now al­most dou­bled to £100m.

A year ago, in an email seen by the Belfast Tele­graph from the Depart­ment of Fi­nance, it said “un­cer­tainty” and a “greater re­luc­tance” by the Euro­pean In­vest­ment Bank (EIB) means that it is now “re­assess­ing pos­si­ble de­liv­ery mod­els”.

And as a re­sult, the scheme was put on hold for around a year.

Now, a ma­jor firm has been ap­pointed to run the fund, which will pro­vide in­vest­ment to key ar­eas of in­fra­struc­ture in North­ern Ire­land. That in­cludes ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion, en­ergy, tele­coms and so­cial hous­ing.

The new fund man­ager has not yet been iden­ti­fied. The fund is also seek­ing to ap­point a board to over­see the run­ning of the scheme.

Head-hunt­ing and re­cruit­ment firm Forde May Con­sult­ing is seek­ing five mem­bers, in­clud­ing three from the pri­vate sec­tor, and two oth­ers from the public sec­tor.

A spokesman for the Depart­ment of Fi­nance said: “The pro­cure­ment process for a fund man­ager has now con­cluded and a suc­cess­ful bid­der iden­ti­fied.”

A spokesman for the Depart­ment of Fi­nance con­tin­ued: “The depart­ment is cur­rently fi­nal­is­ing the fund man­ager con­tract for sig­na­ture by all par­ties.

“How­ever, as a fi­nal step be­fore the fund be­comes op­er­a­tional, the depart­ment will need to ob­tain a clas­si­fi­ca­tion de­ci­sion from the Of­fice for Na­tional Statis­tics. This clas­si­fi­ca­tion de­ci­sion is ex­pected in late Oc­to­ber.

“In par­al­lel, the depart­ment has pro­cured Forde May Con­sult­ing to se­lect and ap­point mem­bers to an In­vest­ment Board that will be es­tab­lished to over­see the ac­tiv­i­ties of the fund man­ager. The In­vest­ment Board is ex­pected to be in place by late Oc­to­ber.”

And John Arm­strong, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Con­struc­tion Em­ploy­ers Fed­er­a­tion, told the Belfast Tele­graph: “The North­ern Ire­land In­vest­ment Fund has long been a vi­tal pro­posal to un­lock­ing the de­liv­ery of projects, through a com­bi­na­tion of public and pri­vate fi­nance, that may oth­er­wise not have come to the mar­ket.

“Although the de­lay in get­ting the fund live has been a frus­tra­tion, the im­mi­nent an­nounce­ment of a fi­nan­cial in­ter­me­di­ary to man­age the fund will be wel­comed by all, as is the par­al­lel ap­point­ment process of a board to over­see the fund dur­ing its 10year de­liv­ery pe­riod.

“In­no­va­tive part­ner­ships be­tween the public and pri­vate sec­tors are crit­i­cal to en­hanc­ing North­ern Ire­land’s in­fra­struc­ture of­fer­ing.

“The con­struc­tion in­dus­try looks for­ward to see­ing the po­ten­tial of the fund now come to life.”

An ad­ver­tise­ment for the new in­vest­ment board posts says: “The Depart­ment of Fi­nance has ap­pointed Forde May Con­sult­ing (FMC) to se­lect, ap­point and re­mu­ner­ate an in­vest­ment board/ scru­tiny com­mit­tee.

“This board will mon­i­tor a fi­nan­cial in­ter­me­di­ary that will be se­lected by the depart­ment to in­vest £100m in eli­gi­ble projects”.

The Depart­ment of Fi­nance had been ad­ver­tis­ing for a ‘fund man­ager’ to run the scheme last year, but put the re­cruit­ment on hold.

There were also con­cerns that if the cash was not spent by the con­clu­sion of this fi­nan­cial year, which ended on March 31, that would have to be re­turned to the Trea­sury.

How­ever, the then Sinn Fein Fi­nance Min­is­ter, Mairtin O’muilleoir, had said there is “no pos­si­bil­ity” that the mil­lions in in­fra­struc­ture cash will be lost to the Trea­sury be­cause of the Brexit vote.

Ques­tion marks also ex­isted at the time about how the North­ern Ire­land In­vest­ment Fund would be run, with the EU body meant to as­sist, pulling its sup­port from the scheme.

It was pre­vi­ously hoped the EIB would match the then £55m and help the Ex­ec­u­tive se­cure a fund man­ager, as well as as­sist­ing in the de­liv­ery of the scheme.

Speak­ing in Septem­ber last year, Mr O Muilleoir said he and then Econ­omy Min­is­ter Si­mon Hamil­ton had writ­ten to the EIB to “con­tinue dis­cus­sions” over its in­volve­ment with the fund.

But he added that “at this time of un­cer­tainty” and given how chilly re­la­tion­ships are with the EU, it was un­likely that the orig­i­nal model would go ahead, although the door “has not closed com­pletely”.

Wel­come: John Arm­strong. Above, the Tele­graph’s story from 2016

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