Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland surveyors downbeat as public sector work drys up

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland surveyors are the least optimistic in the UK due to falling public sector workloads and a growing skills shortage, according to a survey today.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said public sector and infrastructure building work were in sharp decline as a lack of government paralyses decision-making.

Their research, which is carried out with law firm Tughans, found there were also concerns over the effects of Brexit on the industry.

However, growth in projects to build houses was resulting in a skills shortage as builders were occupied in building homes.

That growth in private house building, along with a rise in commercial work, led to overall growth in workloads in the third quarter.

And as well as a shortage of builders and other so-called blue collar workers, there were also shortages of quantity surveyors and other construction professionals.

Looking ahead, Northern Ireland respondents were the least optimistic in the UK about what the next year might hold when it comes to both workloads and employment.

RICS Northern Ireland construction spokesman Jim Sammon said: "While it is encouraging that we are seeing rises in the private housing, private commercial sector and public housing sub-sectors, the picture across other areas, particularly infrastructure, continues to cause concern.

"The fact that infrastructure and public non-housing workloads are in decline gives an indication of the impact the lack of decision-making in government is having on the ground.

"It is perhaps unsurprising that surveyors here feel a lack of optimism around workloads compared with the rest of the UK.

"In addition to being worried about the pipeline of public infrastructure work, the confidence of local surveyors is being impacted by the ongoing noise around Brexit."

Michael McCord, head of construction at Tughans, said: "In some respects, it appears that there is a two-tier construction market at present, with some private sector activity forging ahead, while surveyors report declines in infrastructure and other publicly-funded activity. When we look at the cranes in the skyline around Belfast city centre and the number of houses being built across Northern Ireland, it's not hard to understand the rises in private commercial activity and housebuilding in the last quarter."

But the infrastructure picture was "much less optimistic" he said.

That is a finding which was backed up by the latest construction bulletin from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Last week's bulletin pointed to a further fall in new public projects, "effectively meaning that new infrastructure work has flatlined", Mr McCord said. Overall, the volume of work in the second quarter was up by 6.2% compared to the first quarter of 2018.

Belfast Telegraph

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