Belfast Telegraph

Uncertainty over roads budget putting 200 jobs at risk: claim

By Noel McAdam

More than 200 roads maintainance workers are facing lay-offs because of the ongoing spending stalemate at Stormont, it has been claimed.

Firms carrying out road repairs have only a few weeks' work left because of uncertainty over whether schemes in the pipeline will be funded.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy's department yesterday denied claims that Roads Service had already cancelled a number of roads programmes.

But it did admit there was a £77m shortfall in the £133m the department says it needs to maintain roads and footways – and as a consequence it is only able to issue short-term orders for work.

Quarry Association regional director Gordon Best warned the progress made on quality of the the roads in Northern Ireland in recent years could be affected if maintenance works are cut back.

"We've seen the incidence of claims come down, the roads are in a safer position. Even when the Giro d'Italia was on people were commenting on the good state of our roads. But the reality is, we now need appropriate levels of funding," he argued.

Mr Best calculated that an average of £22m was needed from each of the three quarterly spending rounds – the mechanism under which the Executive redistributes money departments have failed to spend – remaining in the current financial year. However, there are fears that Regional Development may only get £4m or £5m from the current round.

"If we are only going to get four or five million pounds in this June monitoring round, the sums are quite easy to do," he told BBC NI. "A £1m spend on resurfacing work sustains 13 jobs. So if we're going to face a shortfall of £17m, that's 200 jobs that are going to have to be laid off and put on the dole."

A Department for Regional Development spokesman said that around £133m was needed for maintaining roads and footways this year.

"Our budget this year was £56m. This left the department heavily reliant on monitoring rounds, the first of which was due in June.

"Until the outcome of June monitoring and its impact on our budget is known, we are only able to issue relatively short-term works orders to external contractors. This would include, for example, routine maintenance work."

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the threat to jobs was the result "of political wrangling and indecision at the centre of Government".

Background

Stormont ministers have been unable to agree the latest spending round which determines departmental budgets. The quarterly exercise had been complicated by Treasury penalties over the Executive's failure to implement welfare reform, amounting to around £34m so far.

If ministers cannot agree on how to share out funds not spent by departments, the money may have to go back into Treasury coffers in London. First Minister Peter Robinson has warned that could mean handing back £80m.

The current spending round is now more than a month late and the Executive has yet to meet to resolve the issue.

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