Belfast Telegraph

£13bn boost for building sector has jobs clause

By David Young

A new long-term £13.3bn investment strategy for Northern Ireland will prioritise construction projects that create the most jobs, the Deputy First Minister has pledged.

Martin McGuinness said major building schemes initiated under the 10-year Stormont blueprint would also include social clauses to ensure local trainees and unemployed people were hired for the workforce.

Mr McGuinness presented the long-delayed investment strategy to the Assembly after it was finally agreed by the Executive last month - more than a year after it was originally scheduled to be completed.

A draft of the plan went out for public consultation last autumn. Mr McGuinness said the final version had been "revised, strengthened and updated" in response to public feedback.

The Sinn Fein minister said the agreed document would support 13,000 jobs and aim to redress regional economic imbalances across the province.

"Where it is possible we will prioritise those infrastructure projects which contribute most to employment and make the biggest contribution to the wider economy," he told MLAs.

The strategy focuses on infrastructure projects in seven specific sectors - transport, health, education, social, environmental, productivity and justice.

Of the £13.3bn earmarked, £5.1bn will be invested over the next four years.

Mr McGuinness said social clauses had been added to the strategy after public feedback.

"These clauses require contractors to deliver employment and training opportunities for apprenticeships and the long-term unemployed," he said.

CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth said: "The business community will very much welcome the publication of the final version of the investment strategy.

"While the publication has been delayed for several months, the fact that the document has now been agreed will give clarity as to the priorities going forward.

"In our response to the draft strategy we expressed concern at the confusion as to what respective ministers are planning in terms of their capital investment. We very much welcome the clarity that recent announcements have now given on this, specifically in health, education and roads."

DUP Assembly member Peter Weir welcomed the publication.

"This is a good news story for Northern Ireland," he said. "It is showing the Executive is working."

While the SDLP's Alban Maginness also welcomed many of the projects included in the plan he insisted it did not go far enough. "I don't sense that there is a real strategy contained within this document," he said.