Berkeley chief blames lack of training and tax policy for skills crunch and calls for industry-wide response.
The skills shortage in the UK is now critical, housebuilder Tony Pidgley has warned, blaming the crisis on construction's poor training record and government tax policy.

The chief executive of Berkeley Group used the public platform provided by his interim results this week to tell the industry that the need to find a solution to the problem was urgent.

Pidgley blamed the lack of investment in training since the recession of the early 1990s and the government's decision to tax subcontractors at source for the problems.

He said a co-ordinated response across the construction industry was needed. "For the first time in my life I think this is an industry-wide initiative that we all have to take responsibility for. I think the industry is now in the mood to talk about it."

Pidgley's comments come at a time when the cost of plasterers, carpenters and other trades is rising rapidly. They also fall in the same week that contractor Jarvis revealed that it is importing labour from India to counter a chronic shortage of railway engineers (see below).

Pidgley said he might import staff too: "I'd love to be able to do that. But it is not easy under our current government to bring in labour."

He added: "The fact of the matter is that the industry is not running at the efficient levels it ought to. We don't have the right to give delivery dates that we miss, and it's bad enough with the weather as appalling as it is."

Berkeley's pre-tax profit beat expectations, rising 24% to £75m for the six months to 31 October. Turnover was up 7% from £380m to £407m and average selling price rose 15% from £252 000 to £290 000.

Pidgley sounded an upbeat note over prospects for the housing market next year. "We have sold more houses in the first 11 days of December as a group than we sold in December last year, right in the middle of the boom market," he said.

"The market is steady and with the economy sound and interest rates probably coming down, I can't really see anything to upset it. In fact I've never seen a country so relaxed this side of Christmas with an election coming."