The construction sector here has been dealt a much-needed boon with a major new £455m public sector work contract, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The huge Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) contract, which could run over the course of seven years, would see a host of tenders being issued for a range of fit-out and maintenance roles across the public sector body.
Early pre-tender plans for work were put on hold earlier this year as Covid-19 effectively shut down all non-essential work amid the outbreak of the pandemic across Northern Ireland and beyond.
But it is now undertaking a market consultation before posting a range of tenders for the work.
A spokesman for the NIHE said the contracts will both allow it to "undertake essential improvements to our housing stock" as well as "provide a much needed boost to the sector, which will secure employment, apprenticeships and training opportunities".
It is understood at this early stage the tenders will be broken down into 13 regions, with a firm being able to successfully win one of them. The tenders includes bathroom and kitchen replacements, door\window replacement and rewiring.
"Due to Covid-19, we suspended all tendering activity at the end of March," a spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph. "This included our major planned maintenance procurement.
"With the easing of some of the Covid-19 restrictions, which allows maintenance work to recommence, we have reviewed our requirements and are now in a position to proceed with procurement for our major planned maintenance works.
"The value of these works are approximately £455m over seven years. We are currently engaging with the construction sector on our proposals.
"We have asked them to provide relevant feedback before the end of August. As can be appreciated, due to the current uncertainty, everything is subject to change. We are proposing to bring these contracts to market by the end of September, in the hope of awarding them by the end of January 2021. As a major contributor to the NI construction industry, we understand it is essential to ensure there are sufficient work streams to support this sector through these challenging times."
Meanwhile, the NIHE has also now awarded a series of "interim response maintenance contracts", due to the impact of Covid-19, worth around £16m a year.
Firms Greenview Gas, Combined Facilities Management, CTS Projects Ltd, PK Murphy Construction and JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd have been awarded the contracts.
"We congratulate our new partners and look forward to working with them to improve our homes and local areas from September," Colm McQuillan, director of housing services at the Housing Executive, said.
"Before the onset of Covid-19, we were preparing to arrange procurement for new, long-term response maintenance contracts.
"However, as a consequence, due to current contracts expiring, we have implemented this interim arrangement. These interim contracts give us the flexibility to continue to review our position and provide continuity in this tenant orientated area."
It comes as industry body the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) said its latest survey points towards the greatest single risk to jobs and the survival of local businesses is the "slow pace of government's return to business and the procurement of much needed construction work, exacerbated by a nervous commercial sector considering its options in retail, hospitality and office accommodation".
"In the eye of a storm such as this pandemic, no-one expects perfect decision-making; these are unprecedented times," Mark Spence, incoming CEF managing director, said. "We do need the wheels of government to start turning with more urgency and we look across the Irish Sea with some envy at the political impetus behind the English construction sector which is being primed to build the economy out of recession."