200 jobs at risk as Northern Ireland road repairs budget set to run out
Around 200 jobs in roads maintenance here could go within the next two weeks because of budget cuts, it has been warned.
Over the next three years significant job losses in all areas of infrastructure repair will be unavoidable, Gordon Best, the regional director at the Quarry Products Association (QPANI), predicted.
"Yesterday, two members informed me that there was no more money in their areas and as a result they will be laying off people within the next two weeks," Mr Best said. "At this time of year that is unheard off because this is a busy period for the industry. We are probably talking around 200 job losses."
One contractor confirmed yesterday that, despite pleading with politicians, the sector has been told 'the well has run dry' this financial year, meaning that maintenance work will stop until the summer.
He said: "No more money for resurfacing could come through until at least June.
"This means the situation is very critical and we will have to let 20 or 30 members of staff go.
"This is the worst it's ever been. This is the first year ever in my time I've seen us out of work in February."
Another contractor said there were fears that lost staff could seek work in Scotland and England, leaving Northern Ireland with a skills shortage.
He said: "You can't pull people from the unemployment register to work on roads. You need specialists, there is a skills development process, it's a high risk environment. It's very difficult to lose those people.
"There is a lot of financial resource goes into training employees to that level."
Mr Best explained that a reduced budget of £50m reserved for maintenance of roads, water and sewerage this year fell significantly short of Transport NI's structural maintenance funding plan figure of £135m.
He continued: "In terms of capital, the budget is actually very healthy.
"The problem is that the Executive, before its collapse, signed off on and ring-fenced the funding for the flagship projects of A5, A6, Transport Hub, Desertcreat and the Mother and Baby Hospital, leaving only £50m per year for the entire maintenance budget for roads, water, sewerage and public transport,"he added.
"What we're not doing is prioritising the current infrastructure that we do have. It's akin to putting a new conservatory on to your house when the roof is leaking.
"In our view maintenance should be prioritised before we start new projects."
As well as job losses in the sector, the budget cuts will also impact on the current state of our roads, street lighting and grass cutting.
Mr Best warned that recent problems on roads caused by potholes are set to get worse as "at least two months of potential freeze" is due.
"The fact of the matter is that we need to balance the books and we have to prioritise what we have before we add to it and before we can afford it," he added.