Business

Many building firms 'are on cliff edge' says CEF head

Northern Ireland’s construction industry is recognised and celebrated as world-class, the CEF dinner was told

THE 16-month political impasse has put many Northern Ireland construction firms on a cliff edge, and infrastructure planning across government clients is "simply impossible", an industry leader has claimed.

And while the sector has enjoyed a recent resurgence and many successes, the failure to restore a Stormont Executive is "a clear impediment" to its sustainability and growth, according to Ray Hutchinson.

He was delivered his first speech as Construction Employers Federation president to body's annual dinner at the Culloden Hotel, and used the platform to focuses on the industry's successes and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Mr Hutchinson, who is managing director of Gilbert-Ash, said: “We should all be proud that our industry has played a leading role in Northern Ireland's transformation, which is now regarded as one of the top places to live and work in the UK.

“Each year, our industry is fundamental to the progress of so many important projects across a wide range of sectors and I believe we should be very proud that what we do, in no small way, nurtures economic, social and cultural development.

“Indeed few other local industries can match the scale, scope and impact of the construction industry and activities on the local landscape. Our construction industry is recognised and celebrated as world-class alongside our other great innovative industries from life sciences to technology, engineering to aerospace.

“But for our success as an industry to continue, we need to keep making investments for the future, and there is a strong and united view that Northern Ireland's political impasse has gone on for far too long.

“This significant and increasingly harmful lack of governance has had, and will continue to have, a major impact on tenders coming to market.

“With little political direction beyond the Executive's flagship schemes, it is impossible for future infrastructure planning across government clients to properly take place.

“Unquestionably, these schemes stand on very clear economic merits. But a balance must be struck in budgetary planning between how much resource is spent on these and other areas so as to avoid a massive cliff edge for the vast majority of firms not engaged on those projects."

He added: “It is imperative we move ahead as an industry despite the political process. We cannot and should not allow those difficulties to be a barrier to our continued success. Now should be a time to show clear ambition and tenacity."

More than 400 people attended the dinner, at which the guest speaker was engineer-inventor, sustainability expert and TV presenter Dick Strawbridge.

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