Judy Lowe, Deputy Chairman of Construction Skills, writes for the ResPublica fringe magazine
Like most of UK PLC, the construction industry is suffering.
We are often held up by media and government as the cause of economic woes (the
contraction in the sector helped tip the UK into recession last quarter) and
it’s true that construction is an economic bellwether which Chancellors neglect
or ignore at their peril.
But construction is also a fast and proven route out of
recession and good value for money – an industry with real clout and the
potential to create jobs quickly, and help turn around an ailing economy.
Despite the UK’s anaemic performance since 2008, last year the sector
contributed 8% of our GDP, employed over 2.5 million people and trained more
apprentices than anyone else. For every £1 invested in construction £2.84 is
returned to the economy.
Construction is fundamental to our future prosperity – but
the industry hasn’t always been as successful at building relationships with
government as we’ve been at building world-class houses, hospitals, railways
and roads. It is this that led us to
launch the Construction4Growth campaign - to change the way the construction
sector works with Westminster, Whitehall and beyond. Assembled by
CITB-Construction Skills and supported by industry big hitters – companies like
Carillion, Midas Group and BAM Nuttall –
the C4G programme is bringing together MPs, ministers, civil servants
and the industry to focus on kick-starting the UK economy, targeting investment
and improving our sector’s skills.
The panel at our joint fringe event with ResPublica will
discuss the economic and skills landscape we need for industry growth on a
local and national scale, focusing on the key themes of the Construction4Growth
campaign: investment, skills and the green construction agenda.
It is the issue of investment which the campaign first
sought to address. Both the government and private sector have invested
significantly in construction – but many of the mooted projects still haven’t
begun. We must work together to speed up everything from procurement to the
planning process, and start delivering the real jobs the economy needs now.
Our procurement rules are strangling growth. In Canada, a
project to construct a hospital would break ground one year after the
procurement process began, whereas in the UK the same project would take at
least four years to reach a similar stage. This must change - quicker
procurement encourages private sector innovation and efficiency, stimulating
economic growth and boosting employment.
The UK Government has launched their Construction Strategy
in an effort to reform and improve the procurement process, and industry
continues to work closely to support this. However, the current programme is
focused on saving money, rather than making it easier for private companies to
tender, procure, innovate and employ. Construction4Growth will make the
arguments for change, shifting the emphasis towards encouraging the private
sector to build its way to success.
The campaign is about more than contributing towards an immediate recovery – it
is about securing the right skills across the construction sector to support
long-term innovation, cultural change and growth. Key to this will be reversing
the crippling 23 per cent decline in construction apprenticeships the
construction industry is now experiencing. Apprenticeships are a good
investment, returning £16 for every £1 of taxpayer money spent. We are looking
to focus government on a range of measures to make it easier for young people
to take on a construction apprenticeship, helping to secure the talented future
workforce our industry needs to grow.
Developing ‘green’ opportunities for growth through
construction and ensuring the successful launch of the Government’s Green Deal
scheme is the final plank of our campaign.
The Green Deal offers a great opportunity to reduce carbon emissions in
a cost effective way – giving up to 14 million households the opportunity to
install energy saving products to the sum of £10,000 into their property for no
upfront cost through until 2020. Responsibility lies with Government to offer
incentives and interventions that will help achieve the aims of the 2008
Climate Change Act. The construction industry must work with Government and
politicians of every stripe to make the values and aims enshrined in legislation
a reality. Our industry is eager to deliver the Green Deal and other low carbon
construction initiatives to support the Government’s carbon reduction
ambitions. However, if initiatives such as the Green Deal are to succeed across
the construction industry, they need to be adequately promoted and consumers
incentivised and confident that the
small and medium sized construction companies tasked to deliver much of
this work are equipped with the knowledge and skills to meet this challenge.
By harnessing the determination and ambition of the industry
and working closely with Government to achieve our common aims,
Construction4Growth is tackling issues around investment, skills and the green
agenda to help return the sector and wider economy to a position of promise and
This article has been published in the ResPublica Fringe magazine, a collection of articles and essays from our party conference partners.
Lowe will be speaking at ‘Constructing Growth: Skills and Jobs for the real
economy’, a ResPublica public fringe event co-hosted with Construction Skills
at Conservative Party Conference: Sunday 7th October, 5.00pm – 6.15pm,
the ResPublica Marquee, the ICC Birmingham (secure zone).