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Fears Northern Ireland's construction industry relies too much on Britain

By John Mulgrew

Published 21/10/2015

Northern Ireland's increasing reliance on construction work in Great Britain is both
Northern Ireland's increasing reliance on construction work in Great Britain is both "surprising and worrying"

Northern Ireland's increasing reliance on construction work in Great Britain is both "surprising and worrying", it's been claimed.

Just over 42% of companies say their workloads are currently outside Northern Ireland, a percentage which is expected to increase, according to the latest Royal Institution Of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Tughans construction survey today.

And the ongoing political impasse at Stormont is continuing to hold firms back.

Conor Mulligan, director of Lagan Homes said the majority of firms don't travel to Great Britain by choice.

And he told the Belfast Telegraph businesses "would rather work in Northern Ireland and not have to ask their employees to leave their families for days and weeks at a time".

"The problem is largely self-inflicted as we appear to have embraced a cloak of inertia around the decision-making process that is much less evident in other parts of these islands," he said.

"It is both surprising and worrying that many Northern Ireland construction companies increasingly rely upon obtaining (mostly) public work in Scotland and Wales, countries that receive funding from Whitehall under the same Barnett formula as Northern Ireland.

"Yet there is little or no evidence of Scottish, Welsh or English contractors seeking to increase their workload here. As well as being able to compete in these other markets, companies are also seeing how other jurisdictions are somewhat easier to do business in."

Almost half of those firms quizzed in the RICS survey said they expected their work in Great Britain to increase in the next three months.

Mr Mulligan said comments made by former Dragon's Den businessman Theo Paphitis that Belfast was a "horrendous" place to do business, was "not the kind of headline we want to hear".

John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation said there remains a "strong desire on the part of local companies to see more work tendered for here".

"That growth in local work is to a large extent dependent on the levels of business confidence that come from political stability," he said. Mr Armstrong said it is vital "we see urgent resolution to the political and budgetary challenges that the Northern Ireland Executive is faced with".

But construction firms did see their workload increase in the last quarter, according to the RICS research.

RICS Northern Ireland spokesman Jim Sammon said the survey highlights a lack of "real recovery in activity within Northern Ireland, particularly now that they see the political environment impacting further on infrastructure spending".

"Investing in infrastructure is a crucial part of rebalancing and growing the economy....a lot of our existing infrastructure is ageing and in need of replacement," he said.

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