Northern Ireland’s supply of skilled workers could be permanently damaged unless the next batch of ministers support the construction industry, builders said.

Politicians need to set out a clear strategy for tackling the “housing crisis” and improve access to finance to stimulate the flagging sector, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) warned.

Indecision and short termism has threatened confidence and the exodus of tradesmen and women to other parts of the UK looks set to continue, the lobby group claimed.

Northern Ireland director Gavin McGuire said: ” If this climate prevails, the exodus of Northern Irish businesses and tradespeople to other parts of the UK will continue.

“There’s a very real risk of doing permanent damage to our skills base.”

He said the next administration should prioritise capital investment.

“A clear intent to follow through on major infrastructure projects must follow quickly after the election.

“Questionable decisions, such as the sudden removal of grants for companies working with renewable heat products – which left many small and medium-sized enterprises in the lurch – have to be avoided at all costs.

“We’re also still waiting for the Government to deliver a proper house building strategy – the lack of which is creating further uncertainty for small building firms and forcing them to look elsewhere for work.”

He said the industry accounted for around a tenth of Northern Ireland’s total GDP and provided nearly one in 10 jobs – underlining the potentially damaging consequences of an ever-worsening skills drain.

“On the other hand, for every £1 invested in construction, £2.84 is generated in the wider economy, underlining the wider value of well planned investment.

“We’re at an important crossroads for our sector and we hope that the next government will take the decisions necessary to back the industry which is so crucial to the wider prosperity of Northern Ireland.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry called on the Assembly to establish a private sector taskforce charged with creating a positive plan for manufacturing to improve competitiveness.

Most members believed manufacturing had a future, particularly in higher value products, but were concerned about the lack of targeted government policy, according to a recent survey.

Businesses were also worried about the lack of effective energy strategies to support the industry and believed addressing high energy costs should be the number one priority for the next Assembly.

The survey, which was completed by almost 300 local businesses, was conducted against the backdrop of substantial job losses recently.

Source: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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