Less talk more action needed

Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI
Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI

From the Desk of Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI

The Finance Minister’s comments during Assembly questions recently committing himself to  speed up the commissioning, procurement and delivery of  major economically significant  infrastructure projects are to be welcomed.

The Minister’s comments follows completion of the Procurement Board working group report into the findings of the SIB Report and the proposals put forward in the CBI Infrastructure Report. The QPANI support many of the proposals including the establishment of a centralised infrastructure delivery unit, populated by procurement and construction experts that would deliver projects much quicker and at lower cost.

The reality is there are too many blockages in the system. Many in the construction industry have lost faith in the Assembly and Executive’s ability to deliver major infrastructure projects in similar timescales to that of our neighbours in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. The time for talk is over and urgent action is required and all Politicians and Parties need to get behind the Procurement Board proposals and back the Finance Minister.


More positive news on the economic front as the May Ulster Bank PMI showed the Northern Ireland economy continued to recover from the very low base we had started from. All sectors of the economy posted strong rates of growth in business activity and staffing levels in May. The sector breaking the most records though was the construction industry.

Construction reported its fastest rate of growth in business activity on record, which eclipsed the previous high in April by quite some margin. Indeed, no sector of the economy in the PMI survey’s history has reported as high a rate of growth in business activity as the construction industry in May. It should be noted however, that no sector of the economy experienced the record rates of decline that the local construction industry has experienced.

Therefore what we are seeing is a period of catch-up from very low levels of activity. It is encouraging that the pace of business activity, new orders growth and job creation in the construction industry all increased at record rates last month. Hopefully this is signalling a much needed upturn in the house building sector which is long overdue.

However if this growth is to be maintained we need, as mentioned above, radical changes and a strong commitment from the Executive to make changes to speed up delivery of the major infrastructure projects. We also need to an end to the politicising of the “going for growth” initiative and freeing up investment in the agri-food sector, potentially our fastest growing sector. We need our political parties to stop playing the “not in back yard” game for short term political gain particularly where renewable energy and energy from waste projects are concerned.

Facts at a Glance

Good news also from the Mineral Products Association in GB who are predicting between 4% and 5% growth in the quarry materials sector over the next three years. The MPA last week launched   the new 2nd edition of its ‘Facts at a Glance’ publication to a packed room, including industry representatives and parliamentarians. The publication offers a comprehensive insight into the essential contribution of the mineral products industry to the economy and sustainability, as well as the challenges it faces.

The document can be downloaded at http://www.mineralproducts.org/documents/mpa_facts_at_a_glance_2014.pdf

Key Facts from the Document:

250mt – is the industry’s annual production.

£9bn – is the annual industry turnover.

£400bn – is the turnover of industries we supply.

£120bn – is the value of construction, our main customer.

70,000 – is the number of people employed in our industry.

2.5m – is the number of jobs supported through our supply chain.

Materials in the MPA scope accounted for 65% of total UK production of minerals in 2012 (including crude oil/natural gas/coal).

In 2013, 103 mt of aggregates were produced in England, 27 mt in Scotland, 18 mt in Northern Ireland and 13 mt in Wales.

In the 2013, crushed rock accounted for 45% of all GB aggregate sales, recycling 28% and sand & gravel 27%.

The UK has moved from being a net exporter to being a net importer of concrete products since 2009.

The annual cost of the aggregates levy was equivalent to 31% of industry Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2012.

The cost of total climate change and energy measures is estimated to rise from an equivalent of 15% of the GVA of the cement industry in 2013 to 65% by 2020.

Use of aggregates and cement per capita in the UK is about 35% and 60% respectively below the European average.

ALCS scheme

Finally, the Treasury has confirmed to QPANI that all the recent requested information on the NI Aggregates Industry has now been submitted to the EU Commission for the ALCS formal investigation. This recent information was focusing on the period 2008 – 2010 and we remain hopeful of getting retrospective approval for the ALCS scheme.

The Commission has stated that they intend to conclude the investigations by the autumn of this year as all the Commissioners change in October. We now await a prompt response from the Commission and as always will keep members fully up to date with developments.