Message to the new government

James Talman is the NFRC's chief executive officer

We are working hard to meeting the goals of the Industrial Strategy – give us some recognition in return argues James Talman, NFRC’s chief executive officer

Over the past three years the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) has worked strenuously with our members to embed the five foundations of productivity identified in the 2017 Industrial Strategy – Building a Britain fit for the future:

  1. Ideas – the world’s most innovative economy
  2. People – good jobs and greater earning power for all
  3. Infrastructure – a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure
  4. Business environment – the best place to start and grow a business
  5. Places – prosperous communities across the UK

A clear majority for the new government, following last year’s general election, at last ends the uncertainty which has stalled investment since the Brexit referendum. This uncertainty has affected our members directly, with projects being delayed or in some cases cancelled. Furthermore, domestic policies which need to underpin a post-Brexit economy have had little or no airtime at Westminster for what seems an eternity.

It is now essential that new trade deals to be negotiated with the EU and other nations encourage new investment in construction projects. Construction is key to all five foundations of the strategy. These deals also need to encourage the export potential of not just building products but also the design, management and training skills we can offer internationally.

A great deal of that investment also aids the government’s pledge to meet its zero emissions target by 2050. The roofing and cladding sector is obviously fundamental to most construction projects. Not only are roofs and cladding vital to keeping out the worst of weathers but they are crucial in energy conservation and increasingly important in energy creation, water attenuation and biodiversity. We urge the government to encourage the adoption of integrated renewable technology in roof design in new projects where suitable, and to support the use of green roof technology adopted in London and in city environments across the UK.

Tackling quality control
Our industry is committed to playing its part in the retrofitting of the nation’s 25 million homes to meet the UK’s carbon objectives and just as importantly improve the living conditions of those inhabitants. The retrofit sector has seen too many failed initiatives in the past and a lack of a joined-up approach between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Alongside local authority building control, the Competent Persons scheme established by the government nearly 20 years ago provides an ideal platform for tackling quality control of this installation programme, yet another regulator has been established. This is muddled thinking – why not fix an existing scheme if it needs fixing, rather than create another?

Crucial to both new and retrofit installation, is the availability of a skilled workforce. We have showcased to MPs the skills, quality and innovation of our members and our commitment to the provision of a sustainable accredited skilled workforce through our RoofCERT programme.

We urge the stipulation of qualified specialist roofers on all government and public construction projects. This will drive cultural change across the industry producing top quality installations, greater productivity and provide the industry with a platform to attract new talent in a highly competitive job market.

Apprenticeship levels in the sector have historically not been enough to sustain the workforce and the recent launch of the roofing trailblazer apprenticeship is essential to attracting new entrants. We trust that the new government will continue to support apprenticeships and to encourage the shared use of levy collection from large employers with small and medium-sized enterprises who are the lifeblood of our industry.

Nothing stopping the government
Investing in skills, people and technology will be hampered if the liquidity issues, which are particular to the construction industry are not addressed once and for all. We support the initiatives of Build UK on prompt payment and an end to retentions. We urge government to ‘put some teeth’ into its prompt payment charter by ensuring all public departments adhere to the prompt payment code. We believe there is nothing stopping government from abolishing retentions on its projects by 2023, if it links procurement to clear evidence of quality assurance in its supply chain.

We also believe that there is insufficient evidence for the introduction of reverse charge VAT on our members, which has been delayed until October 2020, and we call on the government to abolish this policy. We also believe that VAT on repair, maintenance and improvements (RMI) should be reviewed to encourage quality and fuel demand. The domestic RMI sector will remain fertile ground for ‘bodge it and leggit’ until homeowners have this incentive not to pay cash.

All in all, our sector and our members are here to help across the industrial strategy – please Mr Johnson give us a bit of encouragement.