The promise of more buildings comes at a time when skills shortages, particularly among tradesmen are already obvious. Perhaps the threatened increase in university costs will deter young people from signing up for vastly oversubscribed courses in such modish options as media studies, which seem to produce people capable of doing nothing except …
er … teaching media studies. Perhaps the rocketing salaries that are going to follow in the wake of the increased demand for skilled workers will mean that people will be encouraged to do something useful, like learning to be a plumber or an electrician. Half my kids' graduate friends seem to be selling wine in call centres as it is, so what the new generation of graduates from the new generation of universities is going to do, God only knows.
When the Tories closed down all the hospital architects departments in the 1970s, teams of architectural talent with the accumulated knowledge of 50 years were chucked out with as much ceremony as the hospital cleaners. Now that we need them again, they are nowhere to be found. "We're considered to be experts in hospital design these days," a director of an expanding architects practice in Manchester told me yesterday, "but it's only because we've done two or three small medical refurbishment projects lately. Thing is, there's so much PFI money sloshing about that builders are throwing work at us because the architects in their consortiums have already won more work than they know how to deal with." If you want an example of quantity over quality, this one's as good as any. Still, it's the only game in town, as they say.
What usually happens in situations like this is that US architects, with their corporate culture, move in and show us how to do it. By the time we find out they don't really know how to do it, it's too late.
There’s no shortage of people waving clipboards about, but what about the guys with the trowels and the screwdrivers?
And now that clients in the Treasury with global ambitions have decided that the only contract that demonstrates real value for money is one worth one and a half billion, we will probably discover that only giant Continental concerns have the financial muscle to build them.
But how is all this stuff going to get built? Sure, there's no shortage of people waving clipboards about, with hard hats and risk assessment profiles, but what about the guys with the trowels and the screwdrivers? It is easy enough to design bricklayers out of the equation by prefabricating panels, or making everything so it can be clipped together but surely the need for plumbers and electricians is increasing all the time? Modern buildings are after all just part of the telecommunications budget. Perhaps people will gravitate into construction from other fields – like the retired doctors and accountants who hire themselves out to assemble flatpack furniture.
Or like the schoolteachers who are giving up to drive Underground trains.
Gus Alexander runs his own architectural practice in Clerkenwell, London.