Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Leadership needed to ensure Northern Ireland's credibility

Editor's Viewpoint

News that around 200 jobs are at risk as four of the companies in the giant Lagan construction business have gone into administration shows the potential difficulties facing that sector of the economy.

While employment in construction rose by 5% last year those working in the sector point to a number of factors which impacted on Lagan and pose challenges to other firms. These include very tight margins on contracts and a slowdown on infrastructure projects as the rudderless Northern Ireland public sector awaits political direction.

The public sector is vital to the construction industry and while the return of a devolved administration or the imposition of direct rule would not remove the challenges faced by the sector, either would ensure that political strategies for the economy could be devised and implemented.

In all some 900 jobs are either under threat or gone since the beginning of the year. First and foremost, this is a hammer blow to the people involved and their families. Companies like Lagan, AES which is closing Kilroot power station, and Wrightbus in Ballymena are seen as blue chip employers and for them to be shedding workers is bound to shake confidence in the wider economy.

That is a pity because the economy had been performing well in recent times with manufacturing increasing employment by 7,000 last year.

So while the economy can absorb these latest job losses, the lack of political direction means that finding new inward investment is a very difficult task. It leaves Northern Ireland lacking in credibility as a place to set up business and that is a bad signal to send out to the rest of the world.

Some will point to the ongoing uncertainty fuelled by Brexit as a factor in job losses, but the reasons seem more localised and related to each individual business.

However, the lack of any consensus on how to deal with the challenges of Brexit mean that trouble could be just around the corner. Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot even agree where to make representations on Brexit, with the former looking towards Dublin and the latter towards Westminster.

Northern Ireland needs a functioning administration of either local or imported ministers to oversee the hard decisions that only politicians can take to ensure that a sense of stability is restored to the economy and inward investment is earnestly sought.

Belfast Telegraph

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