The current political mess we find ourselves in has generated an enormous sense of frustration within the business community. With our economy showing signs of growth, with Belfast building again, with increased private sector investment and significant construction growth expectations south of the border and the significant challenge of Brexit WE NEED CERTAINTY, WE NEED POLITICAL LEADERSHIP if we are to achieve the Northern Ireland we all want for ourselves and our children.
I don’t know if any of you took the time to read the Open Letter that the Business Organisations circulated just before the election calling for respect and compromise and the re-establishment of our Executive and Assembly as quickly as possible. Business and civil society wish to make their voice clear to our local politicians. Given the seismic challenges that the EU referendum presents, business has three specific “asks” for our politicians:
- Deliver a power-sharing Devolved Government this month that works for all the people of Northern Ireland – that is what we all democratically voted for back in 1998 and that is what has since delivered peace and increasing prosperity to this region;
- Use those devolved power-sharing arrangement for the greater good – maintain the peace, compromise where necessary, show mutual respect and sensitivity to all communities, and work in partnership with business to deliver more economic prosperity for all; and
- After this election, our devolved government ensures that Northern Ireland’s economic, social and political interests are accurately and clearly represented at both the UK and European level seeking to ensure a the minimum level of disruption .
As the parties are now engaged in negotiations lets hope the wise words and advice in our collective letter are listened to and acted upon. The coming weeks will tell.
One of QPANIs top priorities in 2017 is to increase our membership by 10%. I am delighted to report that two new affiliate members, Close Brothers and Momentum R&D have joined already this year and we look forward to working with them both and encouraging our members to avail of their services. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of our Associate and Affiliate Members for their continued support and I know they recognise the importance of QPANI and the work we do to defend the right to operate for the Industry that their business have a large stake and investment in.
QPANI as part of the Northern Ireland Construction Group are currently involved in discussions with the Central Procurement Directorate and other Public Sector Clients. The discussions and subsequent agreed actions will address what actions both industry and government can take to develop a more sustainable construction industry within the context of the wider delivery of NI Programme for Government outcomes. The reality is that most of the challenges we face in the Construction Industry such as sub-economic tendering, prompt and fair payment, skills shortages and legal challenges could be solved if we had increased workload and investment in infrastructure.
In Northern Ireland over the last 5 years we have spent half per head of population on infrastructure investment of that in Scotland and England. (2,072 per head of the NI population in 2012 compared to £4,119 for Scotland and £4,247 for the UK as a whole).
Let’s take maintenance. We should be spending, according to the SM funding plan, some £135 million per year on maintaining what is the largest asset the public sector manages, our roads, worth some £33 billion. We are not. We have consistently spent less than £100 million per year resulting in a current underspend of just short of £1 billion. TNI own stats show that for every £1.00 we spend below the SMFP it costs NI PLC £1.26. £ 1 MIILION spent of resurfacing activity sustains 13 jobs, on minor works type activity £1 million spent sustains 22 jobs.
Figures from the annual alarm survey in GB show that planned preventative maintenance resurfacing is 20 times less expensive per square metre than reactive work, such as patching and filling potholes. Proactive long-term planning lies at the heart of good asset management. The vast majority of respondents to the ALARM survey stated that security of funding helps to provide a better and more durable network, with more than 60% agreeing that five years is the optimum term to plan maintenance spending.
Any new Executive and Infrastructure Minister will have to think outside the box and innovate in terms of financing future investment, water charges, road tolls and other forms of private finance should not be ruled out.
We consistently spend more on legal aid every year than we do on maintaining our roads! QPANI have offered solutions to a long list of Ministers in the past. Fundamentally we need longer term maintenance contracts of 4 years with spending being front loaded to ensure most of the work happens in the better weather and longer days. We are working hard with TNI to simplify the procurement process and ensure better value for money and win win for both contractor and client.
While the expectations for the next 12 months are more positive than what they have been for some years the Industry faces a growing threat from a very militant and vociferous environmental lobby who are basically “at war” with the Mineral and Aggregates Industry and those Government Departments that regulate it. I would warn of the risk of complacency and a belief that we can operate the way we always have. This Industry is under attack! Make no mistake about that and I would urge those companies, plant and service providers who depend on the Aggregates and Minerals Industry for the survival of their businesses to please consider joining QPANI to support us in our efforts to protect the “right to operate”.
QPANI have had a number of meetings with senior officials in the Department of Infrastructure and the Department of the Economy about the need for a Northern Ireland Minerals Forum. This forum would be similar to the Minerals Forum set up in GB under the banner of the CBI Minerals Group and led by MPA.
There is a real need for a structured and sensible debate to take place in Northern Ireland about the current and potential economic and social benefits a developing and successful Minerals Industry means for the NI economy. We would see the make-up of the group being from Department of Infrastructure, Department of the Economy, Minerals Industry, Politicians, Strategic Planners, Local Authority Planners and Environmental NGOs. This is very much in its infancy but there is definitely a commitment to take this Minerals Forum forward.
Folks, thank you again for your continued support. Lets hope for better and more profitable times ahead.