Industry experts consider the implications of the Government’s proposed agenda, outlined in yesterday’s Queen’s speech, on the building services sector.
Employment Bill: Promise of three million apprenticeships
Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) president Andy Sneyd said the industry has an an escalating skills issue in engineering and construction – and it is not simply a question of numbers. He argues the sector must ensure it is developing the skills that equip apprentices, and those that come through the higher education route, to work in a modern industry that is on the cusp of technological transformation.
Mr Sneyd welcomed the move to “hold ministers to account” on apprenticeships and job creation, which he said marked a “noticeable change in the rhetoric” and reinforced the Prime Minister’s stated position on the subject.
Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) managing director John Newcomb said the BMF wants the new Government to ensure that future funding provision is sufficiently attractive to encourage merchants to invest in their business and provide high-quality apprenticeships in the building materials’ supply chain.
B&ES education committee chairman Andrew Blunsdon said he would like to see the detail of the Government’s plans for delivering the appropriate level of training to meet the industry’s needs.
He pointed out that the first round of the previous administration’s flagship Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme failed to introduce a single engineering programme.
“The new government should do more to get employers on board,” said Mr Blunsdon. “Successive governments have failed to recognise that the training provided by employers is also education. They continually downgrade what we do, but the training we provide is still helping people to better themselves and provide for their families.”
Housing Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) senior policy and public affairs manager Eddie Tuttle said: “Whilst the CIOB welcomes efforts to simplify the neighbourhood planning system and increase the supply of Starter Homes through the Housing Bill, it is vitally important that there is an added emphasis on building design and quality.
“Although an extension of Right to Buy may provide real hope to individuals wishing to secure a place on the property ladder, the issue for policy makers is the number of annual new-builds. Our figures suggest that 200,000 Starter Homes are needed annually - in order to meet rising demand.”
The CIOB also welcomed the government’s commitment to devolve more powers to local authorities. Mr Tuttle said this was positive news for the construction industry and with over 17,000 managers needed in the sector over the next four years; a career in the industry has the potential to deliver on the government’s aspirations.
Story Homes chief executive Steve Errington said Story Homes welcomes the Government’s plans for Starter Homes which will help to provide more houses for first-time buyers.
However, he said these homes, which are restricted to specific housing schemes, need to be looked at carefully.
“Too many restrictions may see too few sites being developed to meet the criteria for Starter Homes. If not enough properties are developed they will obviously make a limited impact on the housing market,” Mr Errington added.
He advises the Government to make sure these schemes are viable in terms of the market value homes available for sale, and the development sites which can be used for these properties, to make sure developers come on board to build them.
Story Homes welcomes the plan to increase the housing supply by building on brownfield land. However, Mr Errington said the question mark over brownfield sites is always one of viability because of the sometimes onerous planning and clean-up costs involved.
The BMF welcomed the Government’s intention for the Enterprise Bill to cut red tape for British business. In particular, the BMF has applauded signals from the new business secretary, Savid Javid MP, that he will implement legislation passed by the last Government to tackle the issue of late payments. It has been suggested that Mr Javid will use measures such as Small Business Conciliation Service to combat the worst late payment practices.
BMF managing director John Newcomb said: “For far too long, a culture of late payment has existed within the corporate world towards small and medium-sized firms.
“We applaud Mr Javid’s intention to keep the momentum going to help solve late payment. Our message to him is that late means late, not extended - and bills ought to be settled to time, to agreed terms, free of unnecessary charges.
“Small to medium-sized businesses can no longer be expected to lend money, interest-free, to large companies. It causes cashflow problems that can be avoided if bills are paid promptly, in full, without unnecessary dispute or delay”.