He compared the climate in the UK with that in Ireland, where Abbey is based: “The Irish economy is strong and has been for a number of years. This has been helped by lower capital gains tax and corporation tax, a highly educated workforce and strong inward investment, especially from the USA.”
Gallagher said the UK had a good construction market that it could not fully exploit because of a shortage of skilled labour – a situation that was exacerbated by the lack of government support.
“The government is hostile to the bricklaying and plastering trades and is not doing enough to resource the people who are training the builders,” he said.
Abbey, which builds 58% of its houses in the UK and the rest in Ireland, reported pre-tax profit up 8% to £18.1m for the year to April 1999; turnover was up 1.2% to £79.6m. It sold 738 houses during the period.
Gallagher said that, after a “rather soggy” six months at the end of 1998, the market had picked up from February to April. This good start to 1999 was helped by low interest rates and increased consumer confidence.
Government is hostile to bricklaying and plastering and is not helping train builders
Charles Gallagher, Abbey Chief
He also said the company had no concerns over an overheating market in the South-east – the company’s dominant UK region – even though there was now “a huge shortage of housing”.
Gallagher also warned that, unless the climate for UK manufacturing improves, the current trend towards prefabricated houses could mean that as many as half of new-build UK houses would be imported from abroad.
“We are interested in prefabrication,” he said, “but the work is likely to go to third-world economies that can employ cheap labour. Planning and taxation policies are all geared against manufacturing in the UK.”
He added: “They argued for prefab in the 1950s and 1960s and then for timber frame in the 1980s. We are now back on the same old hobby horse.”