Big ticket issues remain for Government to tackle

A high level of uncertainty has been evident in the build up to the General Election, which has been unfavourable for all areas of industry but particularly the construction sector. As it turned out, Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election backfired and the ‘hung parliament’ saw her publicly apologising to Conservative MPs. Theresa May had promised a “strong and stable” Government and risked her power in what she thought would be a landslide victory for Conservatives which, unfortunately for her, did not happen. The construction industry relies on stability and with that in mind, below we’ve compiled what some Associations and bodies from within the roofing and wider construction industry feel the fallout from the General Election will be, and what they feel the sector needs from the Government.

Sarah Spink, CEO of the Liquid Roofing and Waterproofing Association (LRWA) told Roofzine: “Despite a General Election, the skills gap in our industry still remains and this cannot be ignored. We need more investment and drive behind training if we are to meet expected output growth of more than 20% by 2019, and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates we will need 224,000 more workers to deliver this. The Government has promised more housing and better infrastructure, but little consideration it seems has been made into who will deliver these projects within the timescales set. Our industry is stifled by a shortage of skilled workers, an ageing workforce and the difficulty in accessing skills funding. Specialist vocational training, apprenticeships and encouraging more young adults to consider construction as an attractive career choice must be a priority.”

Sarah continued: “Messages and pledges towards the importance of apprenticeships seemed to be lacking in MPs’ campaign efforts during the run up to the General Election, and attention on the benefits of university-level education outweighed other career pathways. It seemed the Apprenticeship Levy which came into force in April this year was overlooked completely. More relevant qualifications, a greater number of apprenticeships and better continued professional development of the existing construction workforce needs to be addressed.”
Sarah concluded: “In addition, many skilled, EU nationals form part of the construction industry, and the LRWA would like to see a pledge from the Government that this workforce will remain. Taking that resource away would add to the skills shortage and further cripple our industry.”

The British Urethane Foam Contractors Association (BUFCA) feels that priority should be given to the homes falling short of the Decent Homes Standard. The Association feels there is much uncertainty in the new-build housing sector following the General Election and it is also unclear as to how or if the Conservative party can stick by its previously stated target of one million high quality sustainable homes by 2020. BUFCA feels it’s vital that the UK substantially increases its housing stock, however the Association points out that 20% of the existing homes in England still do not meet the Decent Homes Standard, according to ‘Housing in England: overview’, a report produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, in January 2017.

The focus should be on building more homes and developing proper industrial strategy to promote economic growth across the UK according to the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF). John Newcomb, managing director of the BMF, said: “There remains a high degree of uncertainty regarding the new Government’s priorities. The priorities have to include building homes, supporting businesses, creating jobs and raising productivity.

“We believe that the Housing White Paper must now be progressed as it contains many of the solutions to the ‘broken housing market’. We want to see strong political determination behind concerted action to simplify and speed up planning approvals to increase housing completions. In agreeing and adopting the Industrial Strategy, the BMF favours a strategy that showcases the construction industry, based on a clearly-defined, well-articulated mission to give it purpose, drive and direction. A resilient, functioning and enduring supply chain must be a core component if the Strategy is to succeed.”

Richard Diment, executive manager of the Lead Sheet Association, echoes these sentiments. He told Roofzine: “The unexpected result of the General Election doesn’t reduce the urgent need to construct more homes, improve existing buildings and expand our infrastructure. There will be a period of political uncertainty but the Government appears secure in the short to medium term. Early indications are that it may make policy changes, which are helpful to the construction sector, for example, a greater emphasis on the needs of industry in the imminent Brexit negotiations. The important thing is that the roofing industry doesn’t falter in its commitment to invest and train so it is able to play its part in delivering the built environment the country needs.”

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has cautioned that the construction sector could be left vulnerable to the negative effects of political uncertainty following the indecisive result of the General Election, but that we could end up with a better Brexit deal. Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The surprise General Election result has left key business sectors nervous with no one political party securing enough seats to form a majority Government. The construction sector is particularly vulnerable to dips in consumer confidence brought about by political uncertainty and therefore it’s crucial that this uncertainty is minimised.”

Brian concluded: “In the longer term, there could be a potential silver lining for the business community as the prospect of a hard Brexit now seems less likely. Theresa May stood on a hard Brexit platform and she has clearly not been given a mandate to approach the negotiations in this way. Brexit is inevitable, but the election result will surely have a significant impact on the shape of the Brexit deal we end up with. This could be a positive for business leaders who are concerned about a broad range of issues – for the construction sector, our greatest concern is that the flow of migrant workers might be reduced too quickly and before we are able to put in place a framework for training sufficient UK workers to replace them.”

The Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) is now urging the major political parties to recognise the construction industry “big ticket” items including key issues around skills shortage, housing, energy and the environment and to work together on these crucial issues.

Julia Evans, chief executive of BSRIA, said: “All the main political parties in their respective manifestos have committed to raising house-building aims and intentions by advocating an increase in delivering a high-level of new homes over the next few years.

“BSRIA’s long-running commentary is that homes are desperately needed throughout the country – especially starter and affordable homes. Of course the domino effect of more houses, is more work for the construction industry – which is welcomed.

“But building homes is a matter of quality as well as quantity. The focus on more volume makes quality more important than ever and an added emphasis on the quality of homes is vital to guarantee that in challenging the housing crisis, we are not building the costly slums or soulless estates of tomorrow.

“The construction industry needs access to a skilled global workforce, especially from the EU. Specifically regarding labour: how will industry access much-needed tradesmen? With the current housing shortage crisis, we need a workforce with the right skills to build these, therefore a fluid, skilled labour market is key. In addition to this, international students should have the freedom to study and work in the UK.”

Looking at the above responses, there are a few prevalent themes which run through the narrative on the General Election and what the sector needs. Firstly, there are the housing targets promised and an uncertainty that these targets can be met. It is also very well building new homes, but attention must be paid to improving the current housing stock that currently falls short of what is deemed a decent home, as well as building quality homes that meet expected standards. Another issue is the industry’s access to a skilled EU work force, which was facilitated by the free movement of people. The industry currently relies on this skilled workforce and is eager to see how the Government will tackle this issue and fix the ‘broken housing market’. A lot remains to be seen and we will be following up on these issues and their implications in the coming months.