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£400m DUP deal 'could create thousands of new jobs' in Northern Ireland construction

By John Mulgrew

Thousands of jobs could be created as a result of an extra £400m for roads and infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland due to the DUP's deal with Prime Minister Theresa May's Government, it's been claimed.

But there have been warnings over a slowdown in public sector work, due to the collapse of Stormont, according to the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) and BDO.

The survey shows that around two-thirds of construction firms here said their books were full, or almost full, in the first six months of the year.

Brian Murphy, partner at BDO, said that "potentially, thousands of new jobs" could be created thanks to the additional £400m of infrastructure funding being made available. A lot of that cash, more than £130m, will go towards the York Street Interchange project.

House building has helped fuel a surge in work in Northern Ireland's construction sector.

The survey showed sustained growth in the first six months of the year. Much of that growth is within private housing, taking it to its highest level since 2011.

John Armstrong, managing director of the CEF, said that not enough houses are being built in Northern Ireland to meet demand.

The survey says firms are cautious about the next six months due to high costs and squeezed margins. Mr Armstrong also said that, while still an important part of business, construction firms "must reduce their over-dependence" on work from the public sector. The construction sector here is worth around £2.7bn in turnover each year.

He said the four "clear challenges" for the industry include a "slowdown in public sector work resulting from the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive", a potential hard Brexit, a skills shortage, and rising costs.

"The lack of a Northern Ireland Executive and the lack of a fully agreed Budget have undoubtedly impacted on the tendering opportunities available in recent months," he said.

"That is simply unacceptable given that, in reality, there is a public sector capital budget there to be spent - and a budget that itself is growing year on year. Industry was also very supportive of the additional £400m of capital expenditure, over two years, announced as part of the Conservative-DUP deal.

"It has huge potential to create thousands of new jobs within the industry."

Mr Murphy said: "There is no doubt that wider factors are having an impact.

"There is acknowledgement that labour, material and plant costs will rise and there is potential for a rise in interest rates, but the sector is beyond the point of merely surviving."

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