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£100m major works scheme gets go-ahead after delays due to Brexit

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By John Mulgrew

A £100m investment fund which was at risk of being lost due to Brexit now looks set to get the go ahead after more than a year of delays, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

A fund manager has now been appointed to run the Northern Ireland Investment Fund, which was outlined in the Executive's Budget, with more than £55m originally set aside for the infrastructure scheme. It has now almost doubled to £100m.

A year ago, in an email seen by the Belfast Telegraph from the Department of Finance, it said "uncertainty" and a "greater reluctance" by the European Investment Bank (EIB) means that it is now "reassessing possible delivery models".

And as a result, the scheme was put on hold for around a year.

Now, a major firm has been appointed to run the fund, which will provide investment to key areas of infrastructure in Northern Ireland. That includes urban regeneration, energy, telecoms and social housing.

The new fund manager has not yet been identified. The fund is also seeking to appoint a board to oversee the running of the scheme.

Head-hunting and recruitment firm Forde May Consulting is seeking five members, including three from the private sector, and two others from the public sector.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said: "The procurement process for a fund manager has now concluded and a successful bidder identified."

A spokesman for the Department of Finance continued: "The department is currently finalising the fund manager contract for signature by all parties.

"However, as a final step before the fund becomes operational, the department will need to obtain a classification decision from the Office for National Statistics. This classification decision is expected in late October.

"In parallel, the department has procured Forde May Consulting to select and appoint members to an Investment Board that will be established to oversee the activities of the fund manager. The Investment Board is expected to be in place by late October."

And John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The Northern Ireland Investment Fund has long been a vital proposal to unlocking the delivery of projects, through a combination of public and private finance, that may otherwise not have come to the market.

"Although the delay in getting the fund live has been a frustration, the imminent announcement of a financial intermediary to manage the fund will be welcomed by all, as is the parallel appointment process of a board to oversee the fund during its 10-year delivery period.

"Innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors are critical to enhancing Northern Ireland's infrastructure offering.

"The construction industry looks forward to seeing the potential of the fund now come to life."

An advertisement for the new investment board posts says: "The Department of Finance has appointed Forde May Consulting (FMC) to select, appoint and remunerate an investment board/scrutiny committee.

"This board will monitor a financial intermediary that will be selected by the department to invest £100m in eligible projects".

The Department of Finance had been advertising for a 'fund manager' to run the scheme last year, but put the recruitment on hold.

There were also concerns that if the cash was not spent by the conclusion of this financial year, which ended on March 31, that would have to be returned to the Treasury.

However, the then Sinn Fein Finance Minister, Mairtin O'Muilleoir, had said there is "no possibility" that the millions in infrastructure cash will be lost to the Treasury because of the Brexit vote.

Question marks also existed at the time about how the Northern Ireland Investment Fund would be run, with the EU body meant to assist, pulling its support from the scheme.

It was previously hoped the EIB would match the then £55m and help the Executive secure a fund manager, as well as assisting in the delivery of the scheme.

Speaking in September last year, Mr O Muilleoir said he and then Economy Minister Simon Hamilton had written to the EIB to "continue discussions" over its involvement with the fund.

But he added that "at this time of uncertainty" and given how chilly relationships are with the EU, it was unlikely that the original model would go ahead, although the door "has not closed completely".

Belfast Telegraph

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