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Reports of economic recovery greatly exaggerated

By Margaret Canning

Just as Mark Twain responded to newspaper reports of his death with the immortal words (and I paraphrase) "reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated," so has the Construction Employers Federation been swift to refute suggestions that construction in Northern Ireland has recovered.

The latest purchasing managers' index from Ulster Bank had suggested construction output was picking up – but the bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey pointed out that the survey canvasses firms about work they're doing anywhere and everywhere, not just in Northern Ireland.

It's true that many of our biggest and most robust construction firms have gathered an impressive amount of work in Great Britain.

Names like McAleer and Rushe and McMullen Facades are becoming extremely well-known in construction circles in Great Britain.

But while workloads there may be flourishing, workloads back at home are lighter unless you are lucky to bag a really big project.

McAleer and Rushe, however, which is based in Cookstown, has been able to buck the trend to an extent, and has begun fresh property development on its own account in home markets, while carrying out major projects, including a new foray into student housing, in Great Britain.

There is a parallel here, with Great Britain firms like Watkin Jones making student housing their first venture in Northern Ireland.

Conor Mulligan of Lagan Homes remarks that it's ironic that Northern Ireland construction workers are heading to Great Britain to do the type of infrastructure building work that is held up in bureaucracy and delay back at home.

So marked is the exodus of construction workers to Great Britain, that John Armstrong remarks that "only things in full flight for construction are the planes loaded with Northern Irish construction workers travelling to Britain week in, week out."

Construction workers here who may have been laid-off during the downturn will no doubt be relieved to have work, even if it is a plane-ride away.

And Finance Minister Simon Hamilton last night took pains to point out that the implications for capital budgets of the wider October Monitoring Round still had not been finalised. But while the economic recovery is fragile all around, it may be even more fragile for construction. 'Construction workloads back at home are lighter'

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