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It may take six months to land manager for £55m investment fund: O Muilleoir

By John Mulgrew

Published 04/10/2016

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has said it could take at least six months to secure a manager to run a crucial £55m investment fund here.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed that uncertainty over the future following the UK’s decision to leave the EU meant that the European Investment Bank (EIB) was reassessing the means by which the money would be delivered.

There are also fears that any delay could lead to the cash being sent to Westminster if not spent by the end of the financial year.

In an interview this week, Mr O Muilleoir claimed there is “no possibility” that £55m in infrastructure cash will be lost to the Treasury because of the Brexit vote.

Now, answering in an Assembly question from Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy, Mr O Muilleoir said: “I remain committed to the investment fund and see it as an important lever in promoting economic growth.

“However, delivery of the fund has been delayed due to uncertainty around the European Investment Bank role in advancing the fund in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

“My officials are therefore currently considering alternative delivery models.

“One of the alternative delivery options is currently with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for classification decision.

“Once ONS has provided its determination, the intention is then to move to procurement of an external fund manager. This is likely to take at least six months.”

Mr O Muilleoir has said the Treasury was “happy with how we are handling matter”, but would not clarify the terms under which the £55m would not be returned to the Exchequer.

There remains uncertainty about how the money can be spent by the end of March, with proposed schemes having to work with the private sector.

Question marks also linger about how the Northern Ireland Investment Fund will be run, with the EU body meant to assist it all but pulling its support.

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

Mr O Muilleoir said he and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton had written to the EIB to “continue discussions” over its involvement with the fund.

The Northern Ireland Investment Fund was due to inject cash into a range of major infrastructure projects here. That included urban regeneration, energy, telecoms and social housing.

Speaking earlier this month, John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, said: “While to some extent understandable in the context of Brexit, this announcement is nonetheless extremely disappointing for a local construction industry facing seismic sustainability challenges and for the partnership approach between the public and private sectors that was proposed.”

Meanwhile, the Finance Minister says he will meet his Welsh and Scottish counterparts to discuss the impact of the Brexit vote on October 21.

Belfast Telegraph

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