Business

White van man packs up his tools as building work stalls

The so-called 'white van man' in the north is having to look elsewhere for work
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north’s ‘white van man’ is typically packing up his tools every Sunday and heading to Britain to find work, a construction survey has found.

And the construction industry is blaming the continued political stalemate for blocking spending on roads, schools and hospitals and forcing the region's most skilled people to jump ship in search of a decent salary.

Three out of five local companies’ workloads are outside Northern Ireland, according to the latest RICS and Tughans quarterly construction market survey, July, August and September.

The RICS findings mirror those of the Construction Employers’ Federation last month, which went further in voicing fears that that jobs being exported from the north may never return.

Some 42 per cent of companies surveyed by RICS say their workloads are currently outside the north - and that figure is likely to increase in the final quarter of the year.

Respondents claim a lack of clarity around public spending, combined with political uncertainty, is impacting activity and driving the need to grow work elsewhere.

Overall, workloads of Northern Ireland construction surveyors increased in the third quarter (that's nine quarters in a row) but infrastructure workloads were flat and public non-housing workloads fell significantly.

RICS Northern Ireland spokesman Jim Sammon said: “These findings underline that local firms in the construction sector are becoming more and more dependent on work outside of Northern Ireland, particularly in GB.

"This is because they are seeing no real recovery in activity within Northern Ireland, particularly now that they see the political environment impacting further on infrastructure spending.”

He added: “Investing in infrastructure is a crucial part of rebalancing and growing the economy. We need better roads and railways, schools, hospitals, and energy infrastructure to meet our sustainable energy needs.

"Much of our existing infrastructure is ageing and in need of replacement, and we would strongly encourage the policy makers to take a strategic view in relation to where best public money should be spent to make the most positive impact for the economy and society.”

Michael McCord, construction partner at Tughans Solicitors, added: “Construction businesses clearly remain dependent on the GB market for work while activity in Northern Ireland continues to lag other parts of the UK, which is a challenge for the sector.

"But it also demonstrates the quality and high standards of our construction firms that they are able to compete for and win work in external markets against significant competition.”

Meanwhile the Construction Industry Group for Northern Ireland (CIGNI) has met with representatives from Stormont's all-party group for construction to make clear their frustration at the ongoing political deadlock and lack of political leadership.

Maire Nawaz, director of the Federation of Master Builders, said: "Politicians need to understand that the political uncertainty is deterring economic investment and having a direct impact on jobs in construction.

"We are concerned about the current and future levels of capital spend and what infrastructure projects the government will commit to.

"Construction businesses need to be at the centre of economic policy, but stalled investment and lack of activity has forced many to find work elsewhere, causing a skills migration and further exacerbating the already severe skills shortages in many trades."

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