Right-to-buy policy draws praise, but FMB says chancellor missed opportunity to support small businesses

Construction industry bodies have issued a mixed reaction to the autumn statement’s news on housing, with some praising the focus on right-to-buy, and others claiming George Osborne has missed opportunities to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and first-time buyers.

Brian Berry, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “The government is in a very tight financial position but there are a number of measures that the Chancellor could have taken today which would have had significant economic benefits for little, if any direct cost, by extending existing policies and delaying the introduction of others.

“In addition to making more credit available at reasonable rates, as they have already committed to doing, the government should have extended the stamp duty holiday for first time buyers for property transactions under £250,000, which expires in April, to help get the housing market moving again.

“It could also have reduced the burdens on SME house-builders by providing a blanket exemption from the soon-to-be-implemented Community Infrastructure Levy, which will add around £43,000 to the cost of building a two bedroom house in some parts of the country.  

“The government also missed an opportunity to delay implementation of its ‘zero carbon homes’ policy until the housing market has recovered sufficiently to support the extra costs.”

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, claimed the government had “largely ignored” house-building, despite its potential to deliver “the biggest bang for the taxpayers’ buck”.

He said: “A public investment of £1bn - matched by £8bn from housing associations - would build 66,000 shared ownership homes for people on low to middle incomes, create 400,000 jobs and in doing so save the taxpayer £700m in job seeker’s allowance, not to mention the added savings from housing benefit and increased tax revenues.

“Building affordable housing is a win/win for the taxpayer. Not only does it provide homes for people stuck on waiting lists at the lowest cost to the public purse but it also creates, jobs, supports small businesses and gives the economy a quick shot in the arm with a speed and effectiveness no other industry can match.”

However, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) praised the government’s plan to re-invest money from new right-to-buy sales in the construction of new affordable housing, calling it a positive move that would strengthen growth in the economy. 

ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, said: “Construction led the economy out of recession after the credit crunch. Since then financial constraints have seen the sector slip into a double dip recession, with affordable housing build starts falling to just 454 in the latest quarter.

“The government’s plans for new investment will help to strengthen employment, drive economic growth and provide a sustainable source of funding for house building across the country.”