ACE supports Northern Ireland members over infrastructure budget cuts

The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) has added its voice to calls for the immediate restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, to address a critical budgetary crisis currently impacting government departments in Northern Ireland.

ACE is part of the Northern Ireland Construction Group (NICG), which brings together professional bodies representing a broad range of interests in the building and infrastructure industry in Northern Ireland. 

The NICG stated that while the 2023/24 Northern Ireland budget announced in April by the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, only reduces the overall Departmental budgets by 0.4%, this figure masks the impacts it will have due to inflationary pressures, rising costs, increasing demands and pay pressures.   

NICG is encouraged that many Departments have taken the opportunity to communicate the budget implications to the public, and several Departments have started Equality Impact Assessment consultations on the implications of budget allocations. 

The organisation says it is clear that the stark options included in these consultation documents will have a significant impact on people visiting, living and working in Northern Ireland.

NICG is particularly concerned that the operation and maintenance of Northern Ireland’s essential infrastructure continues to be underfunded – something that it is believed will affect every citizen in the country.

Options being considered by the Department for Infrastructure  include switching off streetlights, providing no winter road gritting, reducing water and wastewater services, redrawing public transport provision and a reduction to ‘emergency-only’ services for road maintenance and flood risk management.  

Stephen Marcos Jones, CEO of ACE said: “The potential for the delivery, operation and maintenance of Northern Ireland’s essential infrastructure to face a shortfall in funds is of great concern and we stand beside other NICG members in requesting that the budgetary crisis in Northern Ireland is addressed with a matter of urgency. 

“The continuing impact of a lack of sufficient funding and cuts to existing funding results in problems for our members around resources, planning and clarity of work.

“Failure to address these budget cuts, at a time of inflationary pressures, rising costs, increasing demands and pay pressures is a concern for our members based and working in Northern Ireland. 

“The ACE will continue to advocate on behalf of members to ensure these concerns remain on the agenda in the hopes of a return of the Executive and Assembly.” 

Jenny Green, chair of NICG and Northern Ireland director for the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) said: “Infrastructure projects and services underpin the daily activity of our society, and the budget crisis will have far-reaching implications.  

“The feedback on the Departmental proposals from the groups we represent is alarming as they will impact on every citizen and visitor to Northern Ireland – and some of the options under consideration could well put people at serious risk of harm.  

“Beyond that, there are implications looming for the wider economy and in particular, for our young people.”

She added while NICG understands that the budget situation is difficult, if allowed to continue, skilled workers may seek opportunities elsewhere, reducing the scope for skills development across the workforce of Northern Ireland.  

“This will reduce our economic output and our attractiveness for inward investment in the future,” she said.

“Furthermore, we need political leadership to address the climate crisis, and to put in place the policies and resources to deliver on the net-zero and decarbonisation commitment while helping to address the cost-of-living pressures being experienced by households.

“The construction industry has a key role to play in the maintenance and operation of our essential infrastructure and is working to support the delivery of net zero and other objectives. 

“However, political leadership is needed and NICG calls for an immediate return of the NI Executive and the Assembly.”

The NICG’s concerns also include a proposal from the Department for Communities  to reduce the NI Housing Executive budget, saying that this will likely impact on their ability to ‘deliver better homes and support people into independent living’.  

DfC is also considering a reduction in investment in public realm and regeneration projects which will impact the quality of life of citizens and hamper economic development of retail and hospitality businesses. 

The Department for the Economy has also indicated that cuts to their budgets will impact on skills and education initiatives, including key programmes such as All Age Apprenticeships. 

It has already been confirmed that the Department of Education will not be awarding any new contracts for extensions or new schools in 2023/24  – pausing the process for these will impact the quality of the teaching environment and the need to provide modern, fit-for-purpose facilities.

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