Building trade chief hits out at politicians as industry faces test over infrastructure
THE construction industry in Northern Ireland has hit out at a “harmful lack of governance” after a deadline lapsed for re-establishing an Executive.
Construction Employers Federation chief John Armstrong said the industry believed that the political impasse “has gone on for far too long”.
“With decisions having been put off, some projects stalled, confusion around the expenditure of elements of the capital budget, and policy formulation having been drastically curtailed, there is a significant and increasingly harmful lack of governance within Northern Ireland,” he said.
Calling on Secretary of State James Brokenshire to “bring clarity”, he added: “Decisions need to be prioritised and taken, and a clear and accountable way of government taking these decisions needs to be established.
“Our preference is, of course, the establishment of a NI Executive. However, failing that, we need to move to a position where the functions of government can be exercised in a way that any other part of these islands would expect as a matter of course.”
Mr Armstrong added that the Executive’s flagship schemes, alongside the bread and butter work of construction firms such as roads maintenance, need attention from a devolved government.
“Additionally, we also face a huge choice over the coming three years,” he said.
“The Executive’s flagship schemes stand on their very clear economic merits. However, a balance must be struck in budgetary planning between how much resource is spent on these and other areas, such as roads maintenance, so as to avoid a massive cliff edge for the vast majority of firms not engaged on the flagship projects.
“That balance requires difficult choices to be considered and taken at devolved government level and, clearly, we are currently not in a position to debate these challenges never mind take decisions.”
Among the flagship schemes are the A6 Randalstown to Castledawson (currently on site), A6 Londonderry to Dungiven (at tender stage), the A5 phase 1, north of Strabane (due to begin early in 2018) and the Belfast Transport Hub, which should be on site in 2019 following a tender process.
Mr Armstrong said a lack of government has added stress to already burdened civil servants, who, beyond the flagship schemes, require “political direction” for future infrastructure planning.
He added: “On budgetary issues, not only do we still not have a budget for 2017/18 but we also face into a situation where, for the next three financial years to 2021, we know exactly how much we can spend on infrastructure works but have absolutely no clarity on how, beyond the flagship projects, it will be spent.
“Politicians across the spectrum would do well to remember that the lifeblood of many of our construction companies, their staff and, ultimately, politicians’ constituents are the very infrastructure schemes in education, health, roads and housing which currently have, beyond March, not a single penny of money earmarked.”
Concerns: John Armstrong