Construction firms need a clear map for growth

Effort is required to re-invigorate the sector in Northern Ireland
Effort is required to re-invigorate the sector in Northern Ireland

Saving the taxpayer up to 20% on public sector construction costs through an innovative procurement process and ensuring cashflow security for small businesses are two key elements of construction manifesto published ahead of the Assembly elections by the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group Northern Ireland.

Representing the largest sector by value within the Northern Ireland industry, the SEC Group covers a majority of small business involved in electrical, mechanical and plumbing installation and maintenance, lift installation and maintenance and steel fabrication.

Speaking on behalf of the Group Alfie Watterson said:

“The overriding priority for the next Northern Ireland Executive, as far as construction is concerned, is to put in place effective measures to ensure that SMEs have cash flow security”.

Mr Watterson said the SEC Group in the province would be urging the new Executive at Stormon to mandate the use of project bank accounts across all public sector works.

“This will enable payments to suppliers to be channelled through a ring-fenced account.”

In addition, he said the group would be seeking regulations to ring-fence cash retentions.

More than £50 million of cash retentions are withheld from small firms involved in public sector construction in Northern Ireland, he said.

These monies – ostensibly security against the possibility of defects – are currently used to bolster the working capital of public bodies and tier 1 contractors.

Elsewhere, the manifesto seeks a carbon audit of the public sector estate in Northern Ireland as a prelude to a retrofit programme to achieve carbon efficiency and a public sector ombudsman to challenge poor procurement practices that are ‘wasteful of taxpayers’ monies’.