Cautious developers and the end of big projects have relieved pressure on wages, says Frank Eaton.
Housebuilder Barratt says the economic downturn that is stalling commercial developments around the UK has eased the group's labour shortage.

Chairman Frank Eaton said the reduced number of commercial projects going ahead had freed up workers and eased pressure on wages. He said: "Commercial developers are much more cautious at the moment because of the economic conditions. This means the skills shortage we had been faced with is not as bad and we've got everyone we need to do the business."

Eaton added that completion of large, labour-intensive projects such as the Jubilee Line Extension and the Millennium Dome had also helped. "There are no big projects like that going at the moment," he said. He predicted that as a result construction costs for this year would increase 4%, compared with 8% last year.

Eaton made the comments as Barratt posted its results for the six months to 31 December 2001. Pre-tax profit for the period jumped 23% from £63m to £76m. Turnover rose 20% to £753m and the average selling price for a Barratt home increased 10% to £132,200.

Legal completions in the six months also increased 10% from 5000 to 5498 and Eaton said the group was on target for 12,300 completions for the full year compared with 11,300 the previous year.

He said Barratt had gained planning approval on 8000 plots in the six months to 31 December and would gain approval on the same number in the second half of the year. Eaton added that Barratt's landbank of approved plots was growing every year, because the group was gaining planning permission for more plots than it was selling.

Eaton said Barratt's success with the planning system meant the group did not have to join the housebuilding sector's push for consolidation.

He said: "The planning delays have caused the consolidation in the industry because that is one way to get a bigger landbank. But we haven't needed to do that because we work the planning system better than our rivals. We don't propose to make an acquisition."