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500 jobs could be lost over lack of funding for Northern Ireland roads

By John Mulgrew

Up to 500 Northern Ireland jobs could be lost over a £95m government shortfall in funding for roads maintenance, it's been claimed. And the lack of a devolved government is having a "devastating effect" on business, according to Gordon Best, regional director of the Quarry Products Association.

Mr Best also said that a funding shortfall for the current financial year for maintaining the quality of Northern Ireland's road network could lead to the loss of more than "500 skilled jobs".

He was speaking following a meeting with officials from the Department for Infrastructure.

"We do not doubt the Department for Infrastructure's commitment to protect the highly skilled workforce that delivers and maintains our road network," he said.

"We recognise the fact that they can only do what the budget they have will allow them to do.

"The reality is that without further allocation of funding to maintain our strategically important roads network, over 500 skilled jobs could be lost. The shortfall in funding for this 2017/18 financial year is around £95m.

"That equates to 68,000 lorry loads of asphalt. If you consider the number of workers it takes to manufacture the asphalt, to transport it and to lay it on the roads, the numbers quoted are no exaggeration.

"We believe capital money is there at present due to delays in many construction projects that were due to start this year. We only need an Executive and local ministers to free it up and get work moving."

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved Assembly since January.

"It is no exaggeration to say that most people in the business community are frustrated at the political vacuum we are in," Mr Best said.

"The absence of locally accountable ministers making decisions, and local MLAs scrutinising them from the Assembly, is already having a devastating effect on people here.

"As a result of recent decisions on health care cuts, delayed school building projects, new health estate infrastructure and more recently the ending of roads maintenance funding from the end of September, our politicians must realise the real impact on people and businesses as a result of the ongoing failure to reach political agreement."

More than 5,000 people are employed in the quarry products sector across Northern Ireland, representing a turnover of around £650m a year.

Belfast Telegraph

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