Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland builders pay high personal price for relying on work in GB, industry boss warns

Workers are leaving families behind and ensuring a dearth of emerging talent here, says FMB chief Gavin McGuire

By Margaret Canning

Builders from Northern Ireland are paying a hefty personal price for their reliance on work in Great Britain, it's been claimed.

And the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said a recent lift in house building activity at home was still not enough to end the exodus of construction workers to jobs across the water.

Firms of all sizes - from Tyrone building giant McAleer and Rushe to small contractors like PG Contracts in Antrim - have been picking up deals in Great Britain since the market crashed in Northern Ireland.

But Gavin McGuire, Northern Ireland chairman of the FMB, said that while it was a good thing that the talents of Northern Ireland workers were being recognised, there was a long-term cost.

Mr McGuire said: "For instance, I have spoken to many builders who are chasing the work and leaving their partners, and in some cases their children, behind.

"Others have brought their families to England, Scotland or Wales, which means that we're not only losing our existing workforce, but we are also putting at risk the next generation of Northern Ireland talent."

A survey by the FMB found builders in the province were busy in the first three months of 2016.

The FMB said the pick-up was due to a demand for the skills of Northern Ireland firms in Great Britain, rather than a pick-up at home.

"Building firms based in the province have seen a healthy increase in workloads and enquiries during the first three months of this year but much of this work is actually taking place on the mainland and not here in Northern Ireland.

"This means that we aren't seeing the local economic benefits that construction brings - instead, this is being enjoyed elsewhere," he added. "It's a testament to the quality of Northern Ireland building firms that they are so in-demand on mainland Britain but surely we should be reaping the benefits of their talents locally."

Other industry bodies - including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors - have said that residential house building has led to a pick-up in work for Northern Ireland builders working at home.

And industry body the NHBC has said there were 3,223 new homes started in Northern Ireland during 2015 - an increase of 30% on 2014.

This week, Triangle Housing Association announced it would be building 300 new homes in Ballymoney.

House builder Fraser Homes said it would be constructing 1,000 new houses in Newtownards, as well as 75 apartments in Belfast city centre.

Mr McGuire said the surge in housebuilding was welcome but not enough to lift the entire industry.

"In addition, the new housing is coming off a very low base, and it's estimated that we actually need around 11,000 new houses to be built every year in order to meet existing demand in Northern Ireland."

And he called on political parties to act to "anchor" the construction industry on home ground.

"I'm urging the next NI Executive to steady the ship and ensure that we don't permanently export our current and future skilled workers to mainland Britain," he said.

Belfast Telegraph