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Construction Industry in Northern Ireland Reports Best Performance in Three Years

Official figures suggest that the construction industry in Northern Ireland has experienced its strongest performance in three years thanks to the results achieved in the first quarter of 2015.

The cumulative value of work was up by nearly 14% compared to the same period in 2014.

Non-housing work also experienced an increase of 19% on the same quarter in 2014, which drove the overall performance improvement.

Although this quarter is the second consecutive one to exhibit strong growth, output is still significantly below its 2007 peak.

The construction activity bulletin, which is compiled and released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), stated that industry output appeared to have stabilised over the past year, although it cautioned that it was too early to determine whether this was part of a true recovery.

Output levels are presently back to what they reached in late 2011. Infrastructure and work in both the commercial and public sector all experienced year-on-year increases in output.

There was a small decrease in house building output compared to the same period last year, but this sector has become more stable over the last two years.

The bulletin does not report on work that firms based in Northern Ireland complete outside the country. The largest of these construction companies now do most of their work outside of Northern Ireland.

The Construction Industry Group for Northern Ireland (CIGNI), which represents many companies, confirmed that the industry is being affected by uncertainty over Stormont’s budget.

CIGNI chairman Stephen Kane said that these positive historical results for the first quarter of 2015 are encouraging for the industry, but are also being benchmarked against a very low base.

He added that the third quarter is now underway and the situation at Stormont has had a major impact on capital and revenue spending in the local construction industry. The situation has created major uncertainty, resulting in job losses, live workload reduction, and reduced confidence for future investment.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) also advised caution as its quarterly report for Northern Ireland’s building trade experienced the highest activity jump in each of the four UK nations.

FMB NI director Maire Nawaz said that several small to mid-sized construction firms were having trouble finding employees, as many skilled workers had sought employment in Great Britain.

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She said that the results for Northern Ireland suggested that things were finally starting to look up for these small to mid-sized firms (SMEs) , but a concern over skills shortages continues to loom large in the construction industry.

Nearly half of SMEs were hard-put to find adequate numbers of bricklayers, while others are finding it increasingly difficult to engage carpenters, joiners, supervisors, and site managers.

Ms Nawaz added that the problem would hopefully dissipate as the construction industry in Northern Ireland strengthens and grows, but the lack of skilled labour could get worse before it improves.

She said that the government of Northern Ireland needs to work with the construction industry to ensure that enough capital and infrastructure spending are made available, and that ways need to be found to attract more people into construction careers.

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