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Further delays hit N Ireland spending

Concerns about a lack of public spending in Northern Ireland have been exacerbated after the Court of Appeal delayed a hearing into an £800 million construction framework for another two months.

The Department of Finance and Personnel is appealing a High Court ruling from last year that its procurement processes for the major framework were flawed.

An appeal was due to be heard at the start of this month, but has been delayed because of insufficient court resources.

Contractors have serious concerns over the lack of public construction works being let in Northern Ireland, with the latest delay to the legal spat only adding to the uncertainty.

It has been suggested that about 28,000 jobs have been lost in Northern Ireland’s construction sector during the recession.

Trade groups say they are expecting further redundancies throughout next year. One source said: “We have seen so little of the work the government had promised, and what we have seen has been so slow to come to market.

“The two successful challenges we have had to huge public frameworks have made things even worse, and if these appeals drag out it just means more waiting – something many contractors are struggling to do in this climate.”

Work on the DFP’s mixed leisure framework comprised a series of urban regeneration, further education, arts and sports projects. But it was brought to a standstill early last year after Irish contractor McLaughlin and Harvey challenged the Government’s decision to leave it off the list of five preferred bidders.

The DFP confirmed its case had been listed for 2 December. It hopes to have the ruling overturned so it can return to letting contracts under the framework. While the hearing will only last about two days, a judgement may not be handed down until 2010.

The Department for Education’s £650m schools modernisation framework has also stalled after the High Court ruled it had been procured incorrectly and needed to be thrown out or retendered.

While it was suggested some individual contracts may come forward while the Government appeals, CN was told: “We haven’t seen any of the work yet.”

The Construction Employers’ Federation has been strongly lobbying the Government to bring public sector work to market faster. Managing director John Armstrong said: “The executive spent a record £1.7 billion on capital investment in the last financial year. While overall capital investment has increased, it is unclear how much of this increase is construction-related.

“What is clear is that a significant proportion of the £1.7bn is not translating into jobs on site for construction workers.”

A task group was established by the Government earlier this year to look at public procurement.