Regulation of the construction industry is essential for a safer and more productive future, election hopefuls from Scotland’s main political parties told a special digital hustings hosted by the Construction Industry Coronavirus (CICV) Forum.
The importance of skills and training in the industry also won unanimous cross-party agreement from panellists.
Support for reform of procurement practices and a review of VAT on domestic repairs were other positive talking points – supporting the Forum’s own manifesto suggestions for ways to improve the industry.
The hustings featured five candidates currently facing election to the Scottish parliament:
- Carole Ford, Scottish Liberal Democrats
- Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour
- Laura Moodie, Scottish Greens
- Alexander Stewart, Scottish Conservative and Unionist
- Kevin Stewart, SNP.
Answering questions from senior Forum representatives and members of a selected audience, all panellists agreed that regulation was essential for the future of the construction industry.
Kevin Stewart said: “We need to have real debate about the regulatory issues, and a consensus about moving forward on regulation. The Grenfell Inquiry highlights the need to have occupations regulated to keep people safe and give public confidence in construction work.”
Carole Ford agreed, saying: “Professional regulation’s primary purpose is to protect the public, maintain high standards and protect qualifications and standards in the sector.
“The cowboys are doing no favours to those who are properly qualified, so we are totally committed to all measures which would support consumers and protect standards and professional qualifications, and totally in support of having a well-regulated, well respected construction industry, which has the confidence of the public.”
Monica Lennon, added: “It is important that qualified tradespeople are recognised for their experience and their competence, meaning the public will have confidence in who is coming into their homes or workplace.”
Training and apprenticeships ‘vitally important’
The importance of skills, training and apprenticeships in the sector was another topic on which all panellists were in full agreement.
Alexander Stewart said: “We want to bring people back and get more new people into the industry and ensure that women have more opportunity to become more involved. We also want economic growth, which will only come about through investment in training and support mechanisms.”
Monica Lennon concurred: “Jobs are at the top and at the heart of our manifesto, and our vision for the next five years is a roadmap to recovery that focuses on skills – up-skilling, re-skilling and how we can support local government to take on apprentices and use a talented workforce in Scotland to retro-fit homes to tackle fuel poverty and create new jobs in construction and manufacturing.”
Procurement ‘a bugbear that needs resolved’
Questions on procurement reform had been raised by several Forum members ahead of the husting – and again, all five panellists were firm in their convictions that change is needed.
Laura Moodie said: “We want to make sure Scottish businesses capture more of the supply chain opportunities, especially from the rise in the growing renewable industry, and I believe there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of accessibility and use of online procurement tools. We would also like to see more support for small businesses so they can compete on a level playing field with bigger companies in terms of bidding for the work.”
Monica added: “Procurement is quite simply a bugbear that needs resolved, and there are huge opportunities around local engagement and low carbon innovation. SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy and we will reorientate procurement to make sure it works for businesses in Scotland.”
VAT rules ‘a burden on business’
The Forum’s manifesto proposals to mitigate the imposition of VAT on domestic repairs, innovations, and green energy projects, also gained the support of all the candidates.
Laura said it was a “burden on businesses” when they were trying to expand and develop, while Monica said any changes would unlock plenty of opportunities.
Carole agreed, adding: “The current VAT system is regressive and holding back demand for vital energy efficiency improvements and retrofits.”
Kevin was also in agreement, adding that VAT was not a devolved matter but that he wanted it reduced or abolished for refurbishment repairs and regeneration projects.
Homes ‘need to be fit for purpose’
Panellists also responded to one audience member’s point that a recent survey revealed that 52% of homes are not wind and watertight, with £3.8 billion spent annually on their repair and maintenance.
Carole replied that in the west of Scotland, the factoring issue in tenements needs looking at, as well as that of owners’ responsibilities. She said: The Edinburgh solution has its own problems, but owners and the responsibilities of multi-occupancy properties needs reviewing.”
Kevin spoke of “educating people” about the importance of properties being wind and watertight, and the need to be ambitious in helping more.