LOCAL firms are relying on the ongoing construction boom in England to stay afloat.

Owners of local businesses are becoming increasingly “frustrated” with MLAs who have cancelled or stalled potentially lucrative projects such as the A5 dual carriageway and a new police training college at Desertcreat in County Tyrone.

The Ulster Bank’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) found growth in all business sectors in July, with construction leading the way. Richard Ramsey, the bank’s chief economist in Northern Ireland said strong growth in construction output “does not necessarily relate to work being done in Northern Ireland.” The PMI also finds that many companies are still operating with squeezed margins and discounts are being used to stay competitive.

Local firms agree.

“I wouldn’t see any growth in Northern Ireland,” comments Patsy Tracey, Managing Director of Tracey Concrete. “Locally, there’s very little happening apart from the odd farmer building something.” Tommy Clarke, Managing Director of P.Clarke & Sons adds: “We would see little or no growth here at all, particularly in Fermanagh.” He adds: “Margins are very tight across the whole island.” Both Tracey Concrete and P. Clarke & Sons are still based at their original headquarters; Old Rossorry, Enniskillen and Slushill, Lisnaskea. Their message to local politicians is that they require continued improvement of road, air and telecoms infrastructure to ensure they can travel to other countries for work but retain their premises in Fermanagh.

“A number of projects across Northern Ireland have been cancelled and that’s down to bad government,” states Mr. Tracey. “Those projects would have brought in money to be spent in Northern Ireland’s economy. The money would have filtered down e.g. workers buying fish and chips in a local take-away.” “The West and Central Ireland, Limerick, Galway and Cork are all very quiet. There’s a need for houses in Dublin, but that’s about it,” he explains.

“England is busy; there’s a construction boom over there. Scotland and Wales are busy too,” Mr. Tracey adds.

Tracey Concrete are currently supplying products to Scottish Water for a sewerage and roads projects. It also supplies contractors around London with tunnelling and jacking pipes.

“We would be getting a small share of [the GB market] and if it wasn’t for that work, we would be very quiet,” Mr. Tracey reflects.

For the last three to four years, Tracey Concrete has been supplying tunnel pipes to Toronto. “We ship those straight over to Toronto, but that’s a very specialist product; you have to be very competitive, it’s a volatile market.” Tommy Clarke believes that growth in Northern Ireland “is, at best, starting to creep in.” P. Clarke & Sons had begun work on building a road for Marathon Oil in Kurdistan. However, in recent weeks the workers “packed up and had to leave” because of the ongoing crisis in Iraq, where Kurdish, Iraqi and US forces are trying to reclaim territory from Isis militants who went on a rampage through northern Iraq.

“Kurdistan is too volatile at the moment so we packed up and left,” comments Mr. Clarke. However, he is thankful that “that lost work has been replaced by work in England.” The company is currently contracted to build apartments and houses in Manchester and telecomms infrastructure in Somerset.

“The construction sector is very active in England. Belfast and Dublin have a little bit of activity,” Mr. Clarke notes.

He continues: “It’s frustrating for local companies watching the débâcle over the June monitoring round, where politicians couldn’t agree on where to spend money. That will have a direct effect on us because the roads budget will be cut.” Mr. Clarke is not confident that local politicians can have any impact on local economic growth, particularly in Fermanagh.

“Geography is an issue here. Fermanagh is far removed from the centres of activity. We are also in a border region which traditionally has had many challenges and continues to have challenges.” He concludes: “Emails, cheaper flights and a better road to Belfast from Ballygawley does help our expansion further afield. Continued infrastructural improvements will allow us to remain in Fermanagh.”