Business

CEF welcomes fresh impetus - now let's build

With the Stormont Executive back functioning, the CEF says it is looking forward to the return of normal business in public sector contracting
John Armstrong

CONSTRUCTION in Northern Ireland has faced tough economic conditions in recent years, exacerbated by the uncertainties over Brexit and the absence of a sitting Assembly.

But now that both of these major political and economic contextual issues have been addressed (to a lesser and greater extent respectively), local construction is well-positioned to tackle the challenges ahead.

It's clear the contractor base here has endured prolonged, unforeseen and arguably unnecessary pressure brought about by local and national political indecision.

But the businesses that have endured and adapted are no doubt leaner and fitter and ready to upscale to meet what we believe will be a steady, if not dramatic, rise in demand for construction.

The timing of the arrival of our new assistant director Mark Spence could hardly have been more opportune in terms of the CEF engaging again with newly-appointed devolved ministers.

With the return to accountable government of this region, we're keen to play our part in the necessary reform of governance and administration of vital public services that, despite greater levels of funding than other regions of the UK and Ireland, currently do not deliver the quality of service the public are entitled to expect.

While we welcome the £2 billion additional funds made available by Westminster to the devolved administration, we also acknowledge the funding gap that will remain unless there is a streamlining of current configurations and governance.

We strongly support the need for a pragmatic and realistic restructuring and centralisation of the current models of public service delivery which have been shown countless times to be unfit for purpose.

Our newly appointed ministers have made public pronouncements to work together for the greater good and set aside party politics in order to make difficult local decisions. We welcome this commitment and will hold them accountable as the Executive's budget and spending priorities emerge in March.

There are many reasons to be optimistic. Our hospitality and tourism sectors have continued to thrive as have international financial, legal and IT companies, attracted by our talented and educated young people. These sectors have helped to sustain local construction companies during the last three years when public work was interrupted.

We can now look forward to the return of normal business in public sector contracting, alongside continuing demand for quality office accommodation and housing, creating more secure pipelines of work and giving the sector the ability and capacity to invest in the next generation of workforce.

Northern Ireland and Belfast offer tremendous opportunity for quality of life, employment and economic vibrancy which are currently hampered by an inability to address key infrastructural failings in water, roads, rail and housing.

Add to that overburdened and under-resourced education and health services and there is much to be done, but our members firms are ready to meet the challenge.

:: John Armstrong is managing director of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF), the representative body for the construction industry in the north.

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