John Armstrong, Construction Employers Federation Managing, Director, has given his view on the Northern Ireland Executive’s October Monitoring Round and the First Step Stimulus package.
He said, “Within the context of a local construction industry facing a significant sustainability challenge, any stimulus package is to be welcomed. The £15million announced today (Tuesday October 25) for roads structural maintenance will have immediate economic benefits both for the communities in which identified schemes are located as well as the economic and employment opportunities that will flow.
“In addition, the £5million regeneration fund is a welcome step and we look forward to more detail on the projects identified for it in January. The further reallocations to health and education capital spending are also a welcome reassessment of priorities at this stage in the financial year.
“These latter reallocations appear to be based on returned monies on projects in-year such as the Mother and Children’s Hospital. Within this context it is somewhat surprising that some form of announcement wasn’t made in respect of the A5 and A6 given that, with five months left of the financial year, it is doubtful that £34.2million will be spent on the two schemes, combined, by the start of April.
“As the Finance Minister said, much of the focus will now fall on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 23 November. Looking ahead to a more detailed Executive stimulus package after this statement, it is absolutely vital that Ministers and senior officials do as much as they can to get schemes shovel and procurement ready. While the quantum of funding the UK Government may provide and, indeed, any strings that will be attached to the spending of that money are yet to be identified, we must make sure we maximise the economic benefits of the funding. The construction industry’s lifeblood is not just the major schemes that have got so much attention in recent weeks but also the education, health and road schemes such as the Ballynahinch and Enniskillen bypasses whose economic benefits cannot be doubted. The £200m local council borrowing initiative, which the Minister briefly noted, would also be a hugely important development in widening the financial clout of Northern Ireland Plc.
On the Investment Fund, Mr Armstrong said, “The clarity in the role of the European Investment Bank is to be welcomed but having £77.5m of unallocated Financial Transactions Capital is undoubtedly a concern. While it is welcome to hear that the Minister has had a positive engagement with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on flexibility around the Fund, it is no clearer to us at this stage how the money, which would be of huge benefit to the construction industry, will be spent. We look forward to hearing further detail on the working of the Fund, with the new flexibility now agreed, in due course.”
For more information, visit www.cefni.co.uk