The Conservative Government has cemented its manifesto pledges on apprenticeships and housing with a Queen’s speech, delivered on May 27.
Reading the Government-penned document in Westminster, HRH The Queen outlined the Conservative Party’s aims of creating three million new apprenticeships over the next five years, as well as helping small businesses with the Enterprise Bill. A new Housing Bill was also announced, which acts on the Government’s election promises of boosting home ownership through Right to Buy, and increasing the supply of Starter Homes to 200,000 over the next five years.
In order to pay for replacement homes that will be needed after Right to Buy becomes available to housing association tenants, the Government’s Queen’s Speech requires local authorities to sell their highest-value vacant properties.
Plans were also finalised through the Housing Bill to introduce a statutory register for brownfield land to help achieve the target of getting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020.
Assuming the Bill progresses in its current form, there will also be help for self-builders, with Government plans to establish a Right To Buy policy that would require local planning authorities to support custom and self-builders registered in their area by identifying suitable plots of land to build or commission new homes.
The Queen’s Speech also introduced a Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill, which included plans to ensure the creation of three million new apprenticeships. There was no detail as to which industries these will be in, or how they will be funded, with many considering construction – and house-building in particular – to be in great need of new young workers.
Sarah McMonagle, head of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “The new Government is right to bring forward legislation on both apprenticeships and housing in its first Queen’s Speech as one cannot succeed without the other. The 200,000 Starter Homes the Government wants built over the next five years quite simply won’t get off the ground unless we tackle the construction skills crisis.
“We are pleased to see that the Full Employment and Welfare Bill will allow for fuller scrutiny of how the Government is performing against its ambitious target of creating three million apprenticeships over the next five years. As the construction industry accounts for around 7% of GDP, it means our sector should conceivably be delivering 210,000 of these apprenticeships – or 42,000 a year which is a big ask, especially given that we only achieved 16,000 apprenticeship starts in our sector in 2013/2014. At the end of the last Parliament, the Government announced a new voucher model for apprenticeship funding and we’re keen to make sure this is suitable for small construction firms – if it’s not developed with small firms in mind, it could threaten their desire and ability to train apprentices.”
The Queen’s speech also included an Enterprise Bill that will set out to create a Small Business Conciliation Service to help resolve disputes, especially over late payment, and will give trade bodies greater powers to act on behalf of their members. This has been welcomed by many within the construction industry, as late payment is widely considered to be the biggest issue affecting growth of construction firms of all sizes.
Ms. McMonagle added: “From a construction SME perspective, we’re keen to ensure the Enterprise Bill succeeds where others have failed and finally puts a nail in the coffin of late payment. Poor payment practices have plagued the construction indu