Tory conference latest: Labour shortages and modular homes up for debate

The welfare state is contributing to the construction industry’s labour shortages, according to the Tory MP who chairs the all party parliamentary group on housing and planning.

James Cartlidge MP told a Conservative party conference fringe debate on an industrial strategy for construction that construction was not the only sector facing labour challenges.

Cartlidge, who backed remaining in the European Union during the recent referendum, said: “There is an issue with the welfare state. We have to reach a position unfortunately where everyone who is able to work is actively and meaningfully looking for work and doing everything they can.”

Paul Nash, president of the Chartered Institute of Building, told the event the industry needed to retain continued access to migrant labour following the UK’s exit from the EU.

He said: “As far as construction is concerned, migration is in our DNA - we can’t as an industry deliver the output we need to deliver without migrant labour.

“That has not changed in the 34 years I have been in the industry. We don’t want to do anything to damage the supply of labour in construction.”

He added that the industry needed to do more to improve education and training.

Marc Vlessing, founder and chief exective of developer Pocket Living, said small builders were being put off from using potentially labour-saving prefabricated housing technologies championed by Sajid Javid in his keynote speec.

Vlessing said the key factors were uncerrtainty in the planning system, lenders’ reluctance to finance such schemes and problems obtaining gaurantees from the National House Building Council on homes built using unconventional construction methods.

But he said the UK was “ahead” of bout the US and Germany in terms of innovations on modular housing, citing as an example Pocket’s scheme to build a 26-storey, prefabricated tower in Wandsworth, south London, which is due to start on site next month.

Vlessing added that Pocket is in talks with insurer Legal & General about using products from its modular housing facotry near Leeds.

He said that the UK population was become more engaged with architectural design issues in the same way that it had developed a food culture over the past two decades, saying: “We are becoming more demanding. We are becoming a nation of urbanists and housing designers.”