Do you remember the joke doing the rounds in the last recession? What do you say to an architect? “Big Mac and fries, please.”
This time we don’t have 500,000 construction people looking for work, thank God, but as we report this week, QSs and contractors are warning staff about future redundancies. And it doesn’t stop there. The full extent of the credit crisis is filtering through to every sector of the industry, from Code for Sustainable Homes assessors to building control officers. Nobody in our sector would have been surprised when Mervyn King told the nation to prepare for a period of hardship.
At least Alistair Darling’s enthusiasm for Keynesian economics gave us a fillip. The government is not only guaranteeing its spending over the next couple of years, it also wants to bring the programmes for the two after that forward by 12 months. Everyone who has ever tried to get a PFI programme off the ground knows that that’s easier said than done. The government is supposed to be spending record amounts on social housing, but Experian says social housing output fell 5% in the first half of the year because of the lack of section 106 agreements and because housing associations can’t get the finance to build their own. It’s vital that the new Homes and Communities Agency finds ways to get the ball rolling – including persuading the government to let it buy as much land as possible while prices are low.
That said, it’s good to know that Gordon Brown is still standing behind Crossrail and Building Schools for the Future. And what’s more, Michael Gove, the Tories’ education spokesman, reaffirms in Building’s pages this week that he is not planning to cut the education budget “one single penny”. What a relief.
But what of the small companies that have been frozen out of the public sector by frameworks? In the past couple of weeks, two have gone into administration: John Jarvis, a 125-year-old Tunbridge Wells contractor employing 35 staff, and Northampton’s Mainland Construction with 160 staff. The government is urging banks to increase lending to small firms and promises to pay them within 10 days, but will this be soon enough? Sadly, it’s unlikely. Firms need new work and they need it fast. One plan is for the government to offer grants to make households more energy efficient. This could make all the difference to small firms – and boost Labour’s green credentials, too.
The government is supposed to be spending record amounts on social housing, but output fell 5% in the first half of the year.
Given the gnashing of teeth over City bonuses in recent years, it was refreshing to see that Barratt executives have declined to take theirs. Although the board’s wage bill was still a hefty £2.4m, at least Mark Clare and his directors acknowledged that the past 12 months have hardly been bonus-worthy. But Redrow, whose annual report came out this week, has split a £271,000 bonus between Neil Fitzsimmons, its chief executive, and three other directors, despite posting poor results. Redrow has defended this move, but the fact remains that 550 of its staff have lost their jobs in the past year. Not good, is it?
Denise Chevin, editor