SDLP Infrastructure Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has expressed serious concern that budgetary pressures is impacting the delivery of winter services.
In response to a Freedom of Information request (FOI) submitted by Mr Durkan, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) detailed that the winter service expenditure has been slashed from £9.7million in 2017/18 to £6.6million in 2021/22.
In a statement this week, the department urged road users to exercise extreme caution and to expect disruption to gritting services as strike action over pay structure and productivity bonuses for road maintenance workers continues.
Speaking following a Met Office yellow warning for ice and snow across Northern Ireland, Mr Durkan said:
“It is glaringly obvious that budget pressures are severely limiting the department’s ability to respond to the demand for winter services. Allocations have been slashed drastically within a five-year period resulting in a depletion not only of material resources but of crews on the ground. This applies right across the board, affecting not just winter services but pothole repairs, resurfacing works and road safety measures to name a few.
“It’s ludicrous that the department has expected road maintenance staff to meet rising demand on diminishing resources. DfI are increasingly relying on contractors to get work done, yet maintenance workers aren’t being properly valued. Striking workers have my full solidarity, their current pay is nowhere near sufficient amid rising costs and I’ve written to the Permanent Secretary asking for urgent reform of current pay structures.
“It's extremely depressing that given the huge budget pressures, department officials had already indicated that increased disruption and risk of danger on our roads would be a reality long before strike action was instigated. The situation should never have been allowed to reach this critical stage and we need an Executive in place to mitigate these risks and ensure staff are paid what they deserve.”