Belfast Telegraph

Building industry braced for more cuts

Most building firms in Northern Ireland are anticipating less work this year in another excruciating 12 months for the sector, according to an industry body.

The Construction Employers' Federation (CEF) said many construction companies were already working "at half capacity or less" as the economic slowdown continues.

It called on government to increase the amount of money available for roads, schools and hospitals to help provide jobs.

The federation estimates that 30,000 people could lose their jobs as a result of cuts to public spending. The capital budget will be cut by 40% in real terms although £250m was reallocated from the expenditure budget to capital in Finance Minister Sammy Wilson's draft budget.

CEF managing director John Armstrong said: "The severe downturn in construction has had an enormous knock-on effect on the wider economy.

"It is highly concerning to everyone interested in growing the local economy that a majority of construction companies are preparing for further reductions in workload during 2011."

He said the need for investment in infrastructure could not be clearer. "Setting aside the construction jobs it would create and the direct economic multiplier, investment in our infrastructure benefits every citizen and enables long-term economic growth," he said.

The results of CEF's state of trade survey showed that over the past year every second construction company was working at half capacity or less.

The outlook for the year ahead is ominous as 60% of those who responded anticipated a lower workload in 2011.

The federation estimates that 21,000 people have already lost jobs in construction in the slump.

Mr Armstrong also called on the Executive to improve the planning system. "An efficient and effective planning system will boost our economy."

Economists have also warned of a dire year ahead for Northern Ireland's builders. Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the sector was likely to record its fifth year of contraction.