Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Northern Ireland companies urged to secure infrastructure contracts across UK in bid to boost recovery

Lord Deighton (left) and Simon Hamilton hope to improve infrastructure

The man in charge of the UK government's infrastructure purse strings wants to help Northern Ireland companies win more work building roads, railways and telecommunications.

Lord Deighton, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and the former boss of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, has already made the process of tendering for infrastructure projects in Great Britain easier during his 12 months in the job, and said he wants to work even closer with construction companies and other suppliers here.

"We've set out a clear pipeline of projects, slashed prohibitive red-tape and, through schemes like UK Guarantees, we're supporting major projects to raise finance," he said. "I strongly believe that working with the private sector we can get the best infrastructure for Northern Ireland, and the whole of the UK economy."

Lord Deighton was speaking at the Infrastructure Investment Seminar in Titanic Belfast, where he stressed the importance of a strong infrastructure base both here and in Great Britain, where many Northern Ireland construction companies compete for work.

"Infrastructure is the backbone of the economy, and it is crucial that we all play our part in building the country's future roads, rail, digital networks to make sure we can compete in the global race."

The minister's approach will be welcomed by those in the construction industry who have complained in the past of a slow and difficult process when tendering for infrastructure projects.

His background in the private sector before joining London 2012 as chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs in Europe has helped him speed up any public sector sluggishness.

"I have an appetite for making decisions and taking a bit more of a risk," he said. "The reality is, the private sector needs a decision and need it fast. My job is to make sure we get a 'yes' faster."

Northern Ireland's Finance Minister said he wanted to adopt a similar approach, working closely with the private sector to build better roads, public transport, digital networks and utilities.

"I believe there is more that can be done by central government to harness the innovation and skills that the private sector can bring," Simon Hamilton said.

"I also believe that the Executive departments can improve our delivery of major capital projects and provide more clarity on our capital project pipeline to the construction industry."

In particular, Mr Hamilton said he would publish the government's plans more clearly.

"As I meet with construction firms from across Northern Ireland, it is apparent that this lack of clear and certain information about government procurement intentions is hampering their ability to properly prepare.

"That's why I want to see departmental procurement plans for a number of years published well in advance."

FACTFILE

What is infrastructure?

Roads, railways, utilities, public transport and digital networks are all considered infrastructure.

Who pays for it?

The Stormont Executive has a pot of money to pay for infrastructure in Northern Ireland each year as part of the block grant. In some cases it can use funding from investors to pay for projects who expect a return on their investment.

Who builds it?

Once the funding is in place the government will employ private sector companies to build the infrastructure projects. While these are important to construction companies here, many also work on projects in Great Britain.

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