Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

David Ford and Edwin Poots in Ministerial row over new emergency services training college

Northern Ireland's justice minister David Ford
Northern Ireland's justice minister David Ford

Northern Ireland's justice minister David Ford has gone over the head of a ministerial colleague in a bid to get construction of the long-delayed emergency services training college under way.

It was reported last night that Health Minister Edwin Poots has not signed off on the college planned for Desertcreat, Co Tyrone.

Mr Ford has already signed off and, according to UTV, has written to the first and deputy first ministers asking for an "urgent procedure" to bypass Mr Poots' involvement.

Mr Ford told UTV: "At the moment I have sent a paper to the Executive about advancing the Desertcreat project as fast as possible to ensure we get the best possible training facility for the three services as soon as we can."

Mr Ford believes that if the project does not proceed urgently, the funding will be lost.

But last night Mr Poots said he was acting to defend jobs, amid fears that one of the companies involved in building the college is in financial difficulties.

Work was due to start next month on the project, which is almost £20m over budget, and future funding is now in doubt, according to Mr Ford. As Mr Poots' department includes the Fire Service, who will be trained at the college, his approval is needed.

Last night, Mr Poots denied the funding was under threat, but said he wanted to proceed with caution.

Spanish construction company FCC, one of the consortium involved in the project, in is serious financial difficulty. In March, the Financial Times reported that it had £6.7bn of debt.

"The company is heavily indebted and the assurances that we want are not absolutely clear as yet," said Mr Poots.

An accountancy firm has been appointed to review its finances before building work starts.

The DUP minister said he wanted to avoid another situation where local businesses went bust due to bills not being paid on time, as had occurred in previous building projects.

"I will be insisting that contractors are paid directly, as I don't want another David Patton circumstance arising where sub contractors are left with unpaid bills, putting other companies out of business," he said.

"I am being very careful about this, I make no apology for it because it's very important we ensure that the sub-contracted companies have protection."

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