Time to Build the Recovery

Mark Spence, CEF Managing Director, recaps a difficult year and says it’s time to focus minds on the recovery…

This has been, by any measure, a catastrophic year for economic performance, let alone the human toll which is incalculable to those impacted.  We at CEF are proud of our members who led the way to safe and Covid-secure working which has enabled construction to continue after the initial lockdown period, while many other sectors have remained closed or been subject to cycles of closure.

Whilst the focus of government and administration at every level has undoubtedly been on addressing the pandemic, this year has not been without some significant developments impacting construction, some positive, some sadly not.  One disappointing example was the decision of CPD in February to abruptly abandon an industry-agreed evaluation methodology which was designed to avoid sub-economic pricing.  The impact of this regrettable decision will surely be seen as work opportunities become more scarce and low pricing again becomes a feature of the public sector tendering landscape. This historically has resulted in business failures in previous recessions and the problem requires the urgent attention of procuring authorities.

On a more positive note, the recent decision to reform the Housing Executive was a massive step towards recognising the limitations of Block Grant funding and we believe similar considerations must urgently be tabled regarding the long-term governance and funding arrangements of Northern Ireland Water before the next Assembly election in 2022.

Northern Ireland Water, on the face of it, needs to at least double its annual infrastructure spend going forward in order to make any tangible dent in its infrastructure deficit, without which there will be an absolute cap on the number of new homes, schools, hospitals and commercial premises that can be delivered.

Perhaps what this underlines is the fragmented approach our local administration has over how it procures public services and particularly construction.  We look forward to exercising our recently announced position on the newly constituted Procurement Board to reinvigorate effective, efficient and consistent procurement for the betterment of public services and fairer treatment of contractors.

Once we get beyond the immediate Covid headlines, and as normality gradually returns hopefully in the spring and summer, it will be the practical realities of the funding available to the Northern Ireland Executive which must focus minds in order to deliver fit-for-purpose public services.

Construction will, as it always does, adapt and embrace new ways of working and will be holding local administration to account if it does not keep pace.

For more information on the Construction Employers Federation, visit: www.cefni.co.uk