We asked industry leaders what Ian Pearson's top priority should be as the newly appointed Construction Minister
If the government sticks to its commitment to pay more promptly that will help. The conservatives’ proposal to give small businesses the opportunity to delay their VAT payment six months will help their cash flow as would relaxing National Insurance payments, but only at the margins. The big problem for sub-contractors is that the work they are used to isn’t there now, because effectively the capacity of our industry in greater than the number of projects available – the government can’t really help with this. As a country we’ve just got to live with a lower level of debt, whether its individually or as people you can’t just go on borrowing forever. The idea that banks can go back to lending at the same level as 2007 is just asking for more problems because the level of lending was what caused the problem in the first place. It’s going to be a tough period for all businesses and as a country the sooner we start to take the medicine and have a correction, the shorter that correction period will be.
Mark Beard, Beard Construction
The credit crisis has already devastated the housing sector. To protect the rest of our industry, the minister must persuade the Treasury not to shelve public sector projects. Economists talk of using construction projects to pump money back into the economy. This makes great sense and has the benefit of keeping unemployment figures down whilst helping thousands of SMEs that operate in construction. The quickest way to ‘pump prime’ construction and hopefully the national economy, is not via huge projects with long lead-ins. It is to ‘fast track’ smaller schemes, for example individual new schools and new wards or departments for hospitals.
Michael Conlon, Conlon Construction
It would be all too easy to say that his priority should be the housing market and housebuilders but Ian Pearson has to look at construction as a whole with a calm approach. Whilst the obvious concern is private housing, he must also consider delivering the Olympic Village and the stadium, and the schools academy programme. There will be unemployment and a further loss of skill base, as well as the current issues we’re currently facing over the CITB levy and training. In each recession there are lessons to be learnt and with the last one not so long ago, Ian Pearon should be seeking advice from those who survived.
Mike Smith, Corniche Builders
The demand for social housing and new housing is still there, and it would be good if the government could inject some more money into that infrastructure. Housing isn’t directly our field – we specialise in refurbishing period properties - but there would be a knock-on effect on our sector. We’ve been trying to persuade the government for a long time to reduce VAT on refurbishment jobs, so that could boost the economy. And we need a Green New Deal, there’s a lot of stock that could be renovated to improve insulation standards and cut carbon emissions, and this is the time to do it – builders will give best value. And my concern is that we could lose a lot of trade skills, something we’ve faced before. Contractors are getting support from ConstructionSkills [to support trainees], but more could be done.
Phillip Hall, Hall Construction
Increasing public spending is fraught with danger, but I don’t think there’s anything else they can do. We’ve seen literally dozens of schemes not going ahead, and I think we’re in for a tough 18 months. This is about retaining jobs and trades and maintaining some momentum in the construction industry. There will come a time, maybe even in the next few months, when developers think “OK, let’s start again.”
David Mooney, Mooney Kelly