From the Desk of Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI
The growing uncertainty over Government Finance in Northern Ireland is not only creating much activity within the media but on the flip side is creating a lot of fear both in the public sector and in those companies who depend on public sector contracts for their very existence.
QPANI members have already felt the impact of resource budget cuts within a number of departments, particularly DRD. Cancellation of street lighting contracts, pot repairs being stopped on our rural roads and road marking contractors laid off together with uncertainty over a number of capital funded contracts leads us to question the competence of our politicians and those in the public sector advising them in the financial management of NI PLC.
Many commentators and those within the private sector believe that our current financial problems have been brought about by the failure of our Assembly and Executive to take difficult decisions on revenue raising and downsizing the public sector in better economic times. The facts are the costs of Governance, the abuse of welfare benefits, the levels of economic inactivity and our over dependency on the block grant mean that we now need radical change over a fairly short time period in how we not only Govern but also manage the finances of Northern Ireland. Of course we all have to bear some responsibility ourselves as it is we who vote the politicians into power. However as we stated in our press release back in October and has been stated in the “Make it Work” campaign we would encourage all of our politicians to redouble their efforts to secure negotiated agreements across a range of pressing matters – including political structures, processes and policies.
The recently published Northern Ireland Construction Bulletin once again highlighted how the Northern Ireland construction industry and overall economic recovery here is lagging behind other regions of the UK. The bulletin clearly highlights the over dependency the local industry, both suppliers and contractors, now have on the GB construction market. One doesn’t have to just look at the statistics in the bulletin to see evidence of this, just go to either of our two airports on a Sunday evening or Monday morning to see the numbers of workers travelling to the south east for work. The Construction Employers Federation recently reported that of the top ten building and civil engineering contractors in Northern Ireland most of their work is happening outside the Province. When we in the construction industry see the data and then hear Simon Hamilton, our Finance Minister, announce in the October monitoring round that over £100 million in capital spend this year has been handed back for reallocation our reply must be that the local construction industry isn’t asking for much from our Executive – simply spend what you have, don’t put companies out of business by stopping contracts without warning and don’t hinder private sector investment in construction.
On the aggregates levy front there is still no word from the EU Commission on the main aggregates levy legal battle between the UK Government and the BAA and on the formal review into the levy exemptions . In addition to this, at time of writing this article, we and Treasury are still waiting to see at first hand the full EU Commission statement on the retrospective approval of the ALCS 2004 -2010. We are reliably informed a decision from the Commission will not now happen until early 2015.
Despite the frustratingly slow progress and lack of information coming from Europe QPANI continue to press home the message that we in Northern Ireland require an urgent solution to the impact of the high level of aggregates levy here.
We have now, through the good offices of Margaret Ritchie MP and Sammy Wilson MP achieved a meeting with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Priti Patel MP, on the 26th November in London. We have already gathered detailed commercially sensitive information on production costs and market price comparisons from North and South of the border to help build our case for justifying a new application to the EU Commission for a new ALCS that will help sustain and protect the NI construction materials industry.
An important area of focus for QPANI in recent months has been in the area of skills and apprenticeships for our industry. Having been through the worst five years in living memory survival has been the main priority for most and skills, training and looking to the future were not an everyday priority. However, I have been impressed by the views and opinions and now actions of a number of QPANI members to now look at and embrace the various schemes and support from Government that will assist them in qualifying their existing workforce, recruiting apprentices and evaluating their future skills requirements. We have circulated a number of bulletins over the last few months directing members where they can get assistance. If any member requires further information on the qualifying the existing workforce or apprenticeships schemes please do not hesitate to contact me on 07876136929.
Many members will be aware of the changes in the administration of local Government and the reduction of local Councils from 26 to 11 that will take effect from April 2015. I am delighted to inform you that QPANI will participate in a working group, set up by Planning Service and the new Council Chief Executives, that will help build capacity and knowledge of new and existing planning officials with regard to the aggregates and minerals industry in Northern Ireland. This will undoubtedly help build relationships, trust and knowledge between the industry and the new Council Planning Groups and will hopefully take us to a new more efficient, transparent and sustainable mineral planning regime in Northern Ireland.
As this is the last Plant and Civil Engineer publication of 2014 may I take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy Christmas and a successful and healthy 2015.
A Year of Successes
In closing I would like to list in true 12 days of Christmas form just some of the successes of QPANI in 2014.
Day 1 – QPANI work with relevant partners to initiate Qualifications and Apprenticeship programmes for the NI Construction Materials sector.
Day 2 – Persistent QPANI lobbying sees record levels of Roads Maintenance funding for 2013/2014 year.
Day 3 – After two years of QPANI lobbying and working with planning service and relevant agencies Permitted Development Rights extended in Northern Ireland.
Day 4 – QPANI publish highly recognised and commended Quarry 14 Journal.
Day 5 – Minister recognises QPANI proactive Stay Safe work on quarry trespass and water safety and asks QPANI to lead on developing a water safety strategy for Northern Ireland.
Day 6 – QPANI partnership with RSPB sees 10 Member sites sign up to the RESTORE initiative.
Day 7– As a result of QPANI lobbying the NI Annual Minerals Statement is reintroduced.
Day 8 – QPANI secure the retrospective EU Commission approval of the 2004-2010 Aggregates Levy Credit Scheme and the removal of the serious threat of retrospective payment of millions of £s.
Day 9 – NIEA Water Discharge Compliance Data shows quarry sector once again top performers.
Day 10 – QPANI sign a Prosperity Agreement with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency that will reduce the cost of environmental regulation and speed up decision making for responsible operators.
Day 11 – QPANI in partnership with others stage All Ireland Quarry Safety Conference.
Day 12 – QPANI lobbying with NIEA sees low risk construction waste removed from licensing and fee requirements