As the general election approaches, building industry experts have welcomed manifesto commitments on housebuilding, but are urging politicians to recognise the wider challenges for the construction sector.
Addressing the specific policies set out by the parties, Senior Policy & Public Affairs Manager at the CIOB, Eddie Tuttle gave his analysis.
He described the Conservatives’ plan to extend the controversial Right to Buy scheme to housing association tenants as “a tepid demand-side policy, particularly when the real issue lies with supply. At a time when we are building barely half the homes that the country needs, evidence from the existing Right to Buy programme does not suggest that one house sold will result in another built. Moreover, housing associations’ business plans, alongside their private lenders confidence, could be seriously threatened.”
However, he went onto praise the party’s focus on “tackling the housing crisis.”
“Affordability for first time buyers is vital, so policies such as the Starter Homes scheme are very welcome. On developments such as these, we would encourage investment to be tied to training and job creation, while incentivising the use of modern methods of construction to stimulate innovation.
“The commitment to boost high quality apprenticeships, providing a longer-term skills pipeline, will also be embraced by the construction industry,” he added.
Mr Tuttle was equally positive about Labour’s manifestos pledges, saying: “The commitment to building new homes and the intention to establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission are welcome boosts for the construction industry.
“There are also a number of noteworthy commitments in raising the standard and status of vocational and technical training, handing over more control over apprenticeship funding and standards to employers and guaranteeing every school leaver that ‘gets the grades’ an apprenticeship.
“Improving the skills base of the UK is of strategic importance and crucial for the construction industry if it is to deliver the homes, schools, hospitals, roads and rail that the nation desperately needs to grow.”
Liberal Democrat commitments to investment in infrastructure and prioritise energy efficiency were described by Mr Tuttle as “both much-needed and welcome.”
“The dual focus on new homes and the existing stock shows a strong understanding of the construction industry. Likewise, the commitment to extend zero carbon standards to non-domestic buildings, promote off-site manufacturing and the building of 10 new Garden Cities in areas of high demand are a reflection of this intent,” he said.
The CIOB last year launched their Guide to the Built Environment which highlighted to politicians and policymakers the three core challenges that the construction industry will face over the course of the next parliament.
Top of the agenda was the need to tackle the shortage of skilled UK workers, which the organisation warned could slow down projects that are important for economic recovery. Nearly 20% of the industry’s workforce is set to retire within the next 5 to 10 years, while enrolment in construction degree courses and apprenticeships is in decline.
The document also called on the government to use construction as a driver of local growth. London currently accounts for a disproportionate 20% of all work; the CIOB suggested that the industry could provide jobs that directly benefit local communities in other parts of the UK, particularly in areas of high unemployment.
Meeting international climate change commitments of reducing carbon emissions by 80% was also a core aim, with the organisation arguing that the built environment is the single largest contributor and accounts for 45% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, and therefore energy efficiency should be made a priority.
Chris Blythe, Chief Executive of the CIOB said: “Construction is often simplistically viewed in terms of employment statistics and visible work on building sites, but this overlooks the increasingly high-tech nature of an industry that is leading on innovation and contributing directly to national productivity.
“The quality of our buildings has a lasting impact on the wellbeing of individuals and communities across all regions and sectors.
“Much political and media attention focuses on house building and, while this is an extremely important issue, it actually accounts for a minority of total UK construction output. We would like to see discussions become integrated into a much wider agenda. The decisions made today will be felt for decades and generations.”