Belfast Telegraph

Infrastructure investment vital for our economy, says CBI chief

By Margaret Canning

Investment in Northern Ireland's infrastructure is critical because of its importance to companies' investment decisions, a conference has heard.

Nigel Smyth, director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said the business community here was united in recognising the importance of investment in infrastructure.

He said business also believed there was a need to reform and centralise government procurement and delivery.

Mr Smyth said: "For industry, the importance of continuing to invest in our infrastructure, be it roads, rail, education, energy or our health estate, is critical given the major impact this has on companies' investment decisions.

"Without the right infrastructure package, Northern Ireland will still lag our international competitors when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment and encouraging indigenous business to invest and grow further on these shores."

Mr Smyth told the event at Titanic Belfast that quality and cost of infrastructure had a "significant impact" on 98% of business investment decisions.

In a document on infrastructure last year, the CBI highlighted problems with infrastructure, including delays in delivery, budget overruns and the lack of definite plans for the future.

But writing in Business Telegraph this week, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the Executive would allocate £1.6bn this year to infrastructure projects.

Mr Hamilton said: "This brings us back to pre-recession levels and indications from HM Treasury are positive that the level of capital expenditure will continue to increase."

Mr Smyth said yesterday that businesses had to be concerted in their approach to making the most of any money available for infrastructure.

"To achieve these ends, we must make maximum use of all funding streams that are realistically available to us – including the annual block grant from Westminster and opportunities of European Investment Bank financing – and link this in with an ambitious Northern Ireland Executive-led approach which agrees the key strategic infrastructure priorities and seeks to mandate them through collective decision making."

He said politicians also had to agree on a pipeline of infrastructure works which businesses could have confidence in.

And there had to be improvements in delivery of infrastructure developments, such as better value for money, better project management and ensuring projects were delivered on time.

Mr Hamilton said he would be creating a "centralised construction procurement and delivery service".

That service, within the Central Procurement Directorate, would give technical advice, procurement, project management and contract management for all government building projects, apart from social housing

He said he would also work with the Executive on agreeing to a portfolio of "strategically significant projects", which would then reviewed on a quarterly basis.

The minister said: "This road map towards better infrastructure can – if grasped by all of my Executive colleagues – ensure that we don't lose the opportunity created by increased capital spend to improve the economy and the prospects of our people."

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