Belfast Telegraph

Stormont cash cuts 'hitting recovery in construction sector'

By Margaret Canning

Access to finance and cuts to infrastructure spending are holding back recovery among smaller construction firms, it's been claimed.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) gave its warning as it published its state of trade survey, which gave an overall positive picture of a return to growth for construction in the province.

It echoes recent findings from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which last week said that while the sector as a whole was recovering at home, workloads for infrastructure contracts were falling.

Maire Nawaz, director of FMB Northern Ireland (NI), said: "Although it is encouraging to see the results for Northern Ireland start to catch up with the other UK nations, these figures do not tell the whole story.

"Although there is some optimism returning to the sector, many builders are concerned about future workloads due to the cuts in capital spending by the NI Executive.

"This reduction in public work coupled with the lack of available finance for private work is having a detrimental effect.

"The survey results demonstrate a particularly severe shortage of bricklayers, carpenters, joiners and plumbers.

"With the constant export of construction operatives and fewer young people coming into the construction industry, Northern Ireland construction firms will soon struggle to find qualified and competent workers."

In the latest survey by RICS, Northern Ireland was the only United Kingdom region whose surveyors reported a decline in infrastructure workloads.

Ms Nawaz said the Executive needed to figure out new ways to fund construction projects.

She said funds from the Financial Transactions Capital could be used to help the construction sector - and could be made available in the form of loans to house builders or to fund the 'retro-fit' of existing homes.

"Both initiatives will help increase construction activity by addressing the difficulties many construction firms still encounter when attempting to access finance from the major banks."

Financial Transactions Capital is a form of capital funding from the UK Government, allocated from UK budgets and autumn statements. Its funds can only be used by the public sector in the form or a lending to - or an equity investment in - a private company.

Belfast Telegraph