The FMB continues to lobby for members' interests
Brian Berry - FMB Director of External Affairs
The FMB makes representations to Government on behalf of its members and Brian Berry, FMB Director of External Affairs asks for YOUR input as the political party conference season begins.
PARTY CONFERENCE TIME
This autumn (as in previous years) the FMB will be attending the three main UK party conferences. In a break from tradition, all three will not be held at the seaside. Instead, the Liberal Democrats will start the season by holding their conference in Liverpool from 18-22 September. The Labour Party then meet in Manchester from 26-30 September and finally the Conservative Party meet in Birmingham from 3-6 October. The FMB will be reporting back on our activities as we champion our General Election manifesto, ‘Building for Success – A Programme for the 2010 Parliament’.
SKILLS IN A RECESSION
Members need no reminding that the economic downturn has had a profound effect on the construction industry, not least on the construction skills sector and the latest Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) annual skills survey makes very interesting reading. It reveals that the construction industry continues to suffer from a skills shortage, despite an overall decrease in construction demand in 2009 by 11.5 percent.
72 percent of respondents to the survey believe the industry is still suffering from a skills shortage, with 67 percent of those of the opinion that a lack of apprenticeship employment is the biggest threat to the future skills agenda in the industry. The findings from the research conclude that the lack of a clear and well funded apprenticeship scheme is detrimental to the availability of skills within the construction industry. In addition, 66 percent of respondents were of the opinion that trade skills are what the industry most requires. Almost half of the respondents felt that the construction industry should be recruiting skills, particularly leadership skills, from other industries.
The CIOB report, ‘Exploring Skills in the UK Construction Industry’ can be viewed at: www.ciob.org/resources/research
FALLING WORKLOADS FOR FMB MEMBERS
Construction workloads for small building companies have continued to decline for the tenth consecutive quarter, according to our latest State of Trade Survey of FMB members. However, there are signs that the continual fall in workloads may be nearing its end with a leveling off in the rate of decline for both residential and non-residential work.
Despite the fact that the Quarter Two results from our survey still show two and a half years of declining workloads, underneath the headline results we are seeing grounds for some optimism, in that workloads and employment are at least beginning to stabilise around their current (albeit much reduced) levels. Workloads right across the housing sector are now showing encouraging signs of stabilisation as demonstrated by the fact that 46 percent of FMB companies undertaking private new housing; 60 percent of FMB companies undertaking social new housing; and 52 percent of FMB companies carrying out social repair, maintenance and improvement (RM&I) work reported no change to their workloads. When this is considered with the 53 percent of respondents to the survey reporting no change to staffing levels; the 60 percent not expecting to make any staffing changes over the next six months; and the 50-60 percent of companies reporting no change expectations for workloads in each of eight sectors for the coming quarter, we are at last beginning to see some hope of recovery in the construction sector.
What the survey demonstrates is that the recovery in the wider construction sector is still very fragile, and the signs of stabilisation in the SME sector are not the same as actual growth. Even without further decline we have some very serious problems. For example, private new housing workloads have been declining every quarter since quarter three of 2007 and new social housing has only seen workload growth in two quarters since 1999. There needs to be significant growth in the construction sector as a whole if we are to have a sustained recovery. Looking ahead, we have yet to see the details of the Government’s autumn spending review and the impact of the increase in the rate of VAT to 20 percent next year might jeopardise the recovery.
The Government's 'Green Deal' scheme will allow households to take out loans to pay for energy efficient improvements.
It has been almost four months since the UK’s newly elected, and historic, Coalition Government was formed, introducing an interesting partnership between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties. With over 22 bills announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Coalition certainly has its work cut out over the next 18 months.
Without doubt, the biggest concern of this Government is the reduction of the national deficit, which stands at a colossal 12 percent of GDP. However, both David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy, Nick Clegg, have pledged that the urgent need to develop a low-carbon economy will remain a key issue and focus amidst deficit reduction plans. To affirm his commitment, one of Cameron’s earliest announcements included a target to reduce central government carbon emissions by 10 percent within the next 12 months. In the same vein, the Prime Minister has also committed to push the European Union to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30 percent by 2020.
The Energy Security and Green Economy Bill to be tabled at the end of the year is expected to deliver some of the pledges made in the Coalition Government’s manifesto. The Bill will implement the Government’s high-profile ‘Green Deal’ scheme, which will allow households to take out loans to pay for energy efficiency improvements and then make repayments through the energy bill savings that result. The Bill is expected to set out the legal framework that will allow green loans to be attached to the building rather than the individual, to ensure that when a person moves house they no longer have to make repayments. In a potentially significant move for the building industry, the Government also confirmed the Green Deal scheme would cover businesses as well as households.
Details of the Green Deal have yet to be thrashed out by the Government with a Conservative Party manifesto pledge promising every household the right to have home energy efficiency improvements of up to £6,500 in value but the Liberal Democrats hoping for up to £10,000. The Bill is expected to be established towards the end of 2010 which it is hoped will attach green deal finance to energy metering in the home. The FMB External Affairs Department has been busy talking to other organisations about the Green Deal and will be actively monitoring its progress as it goes through Parliament.
PENFOLD REVIEW – FINAL REPORT
The Penfold Review of Non-Planning Consents which the FMB responded to in February has now published its final report, setting out a series of recommendations on how best to simplify the non planning consents. It also includes proposals that it believes could free up resources, save time and money, and deliver real benefits not only to developers and investors, but also to consenting bodies in England. Local communities could also benefit from greater transparency and clarity about how decisions are made. The review focused on ‘non-planning consents’, such as environmental permits, highways orders, and heritage consents that are needed alongside or after planning permission. It found a complex and fragmented landscape that poses real problems for some businesses to navigate effectively.
The report recommends:
- Simplifying the non-planning consents landscape by removing some individual consents and rationalising other groups of related consents
- Giving developers easy access to clear, accurate and up-to-date information
- Delivering greater certainty for developers and removing duplication by improving the way planning and non-planning consents operate together
- Improving the co-ordination and governance around decisions involving multiple decision makers
- Strengthening the service culture of decision-making bodies by, for example, setting timetables for the determination of non-planning consents
- Creating a clear system for oversight of the planning and non-planning landscape.
The Government is now considering the recommendations from the Penfold Review and will publish a formal response later this autumn. The report can viewed at: www.bis.gov.uk/penfold