Irish launch charm offensive on UK construction sector

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The Independent Online

The Irish Government will this week launch a charm offensive aimed at Britain's construction industry bosses in an attempt to woo them across the North Sea.

The Irish Government will this week launch a charm offensive aimed at Britain's construction industry bosses in an attempt to woo them across the North Sea.

The Government wants to upgrade the country's creaking roads, bridges and waterways, as part of a IR£40bn (£32bn) development plan, and it is keen to see British firms bidding for the contracts.

Senior Irish officials will host a seminar in London on Friday where British construction companies will be introduced to the projects, which will be structured under the Public Private Partnership initiative.

The work is part of the Government's six-year National Development Plan, and contracts are thought to be worth up to IR£21bn.

It is estimated that individual contracts could be worth up to IR£200m and the Government has privately conceded that its domestic construction industry is too small to handle this size of project. Said one source close to the Government: "There is a huge infrastructure backlog but the Irish construction industry just isn't big enough. We want to get all the chief executives of the big British firms to take an interest."

It is understood that 120 people have already signed up to the seminar including senior executives from Amec, Bovis Lend Lease, Balfour Beatty and Costain. It is understood that the Irish Government is also planning to meet with continental European operators soon.

The move has, however, disappointed the Irish construction industry. It is understood that Ireland's Construction Industry Federation had pressed the Government to reduce the size of the contracts so that domestic companies could bid. Britain's construction industry is cock-a-hoop about the potential of such large projects.

John Bromley, director of European Affairs at Britain's Construction Federation, said: "Because of the potential size of the contracts, it will be a major boost to the industry."

He said that since 1991, the sector had consistently grown in size and the Irish contracts would help to maintain the growth.

But he sounded a note of caution: "There is a lot of political force behind the project. If things go wrong and the economy bursts under the pressure, then a lot of reputations will be on the line."

Over the last decade Ireland's economy has been one of the fastest-growing in Europe.

Since 1993 the economy has expanded by more than 50 per cent in real terms, which is four times the European average.

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