Belfast Telegraph

NI construction projects to benefit from Chancellor's £250m infrastructure boost

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's construction industry has welcomed a £250m boost for infrastructure in the Autumn Statement.

The £250m is spread over the next four years and could be used towards projects such as the huge York Street Interchange in Belfast city centre.

Chancellor Philip Hammond also froze fuel duty for the seventh year in a row - a measure that is likely to save car drivers here around £130 a year.

And the national living wage has been increased to £7.50 per hour from April - a rise of 30 pence.

Meanwhile, universities and businesses in Northern Ireland should benefit from the decision to increase funding for research and innovation by £2bn a year by 2020-21.

John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF), said the industry had been facing difficult times.

"The additional £250m of capital expenditure, over the coming four years, announced by the Chancellor is therefore a welcome boost for the local construction industry," he said.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir also said the extra funding was "welcome", but that lower economic forecasts and continued austerity - such as benefit cuts - meant that there was still "turbulence" ahead.

Mr O Muilleoir is to tell the Assembly what he will do with the extra funding next month.

The Autumn Statement had been billed in advance as one that would help a section of the population known as the 'just about managing' (JAMs).

But, overall, it was an exercise in caution by the Chancellor, who emphasised that economic uncertainty as a result of the Brexit vote meant that growth forecasts were being revised down.

Growth is expected to be at 2.1% this year and 1.4% next year - with a trend of about 2% every year through to 2020.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said a background of tumultuous events - from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump as US President - could not be ignored. "There have been some sweeteners to help those JAMs but the key thrust for the next few years is higher taxes, higher inflation and public spending restraint.

"Austerity hasn't gone away, you know, and will be complicated by 'Brump' uncertainty (Brexit and Trump) in 2017 and beyond."

And he said Government would be forced to borrow more as a result of the slower economic growth.

He added: "Overall, the big picture is a slowdown in economic growth with next year's expected rise in inflation set to hit consumer spending in particular."

Ewan Boyle, a director of wealth management advisers Johnston Campbell, said the £250m sum for infrastructure was unlikely to make a large impression on Northern Ireland's economy.

"If Northern Ireland had been receiving infrastructure investment of around the £1bn mark, that would have been a different matter, but as it is, that additional £250m will only fund a couple of major schemes on the scale of the York Street Interchange or the (Europa) transport hub."

Belfast Telegraph

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