Does the government understand our challenges? 

In this article Robert Candy, Scaffolding Association CEO, discusses the issues facing construction and the support offered by government…

The past year has been yet another challenging one for scaffolding and access businesses and indeed the wider construction sector, but in some respects, there has been an incredible amount of progress that we can all be thankful for.

Whilst the pandemic is far from over, we’ve been fortunate that the UK’s roll-out of its COVID vaccination programme has been one of the most successful in the world and as a result, most of us have been able to resume a degree of normality in our personal and professional lives. 

That said, most of the construction sector and the many trades that support it, never stopped, even during the height of the pandemic.

However, the global impact has had significant ramifications on manufacturing, supply chains and the availability of labour and it is these consequential issues, exacerbated by the UK leaving the European Union, that have and continue to hurt our industry the most.

At the time of writing, the latest construction output statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate how severe this situation has become, and demonstrate the freighting scale of the impact that reduced manufacturing and rising shipping and transport costs are having on the construction industry.

Look no further than the astronomical year-on-year increases for vital materials including plywood (78.4%), fabricated structural steel (74.8%), and sawn or planed wood (74.0%). These levels of increases are clearly unsustainable.

The autumn budget delivered by the Chancellor on 27th October was an opportunity to support the construction industry and on the face of it there were some positives. £24bn was allocated to National Highways for the years 2020-21 and 2024-25 for building and improving England’s strategic roads, plus a further £7.6bn for routine maintenance and 50+ local road upgrades.

An additional £1.8bn was allocated to housing supply, on top of the £10bn already earmarked for the next five-year period which includes £300m that will be distributed to local authorities and mayors to unlock brownfield sites for housing, and £1.5bn to regenerate underused land and build infrastructure to unlock another 160,000 homes.

A new investment relief will be introduced to encourage businesses to adopt green technologies like solar panels and a new ‘business rates improvement relief’ will allow businesses to make property improvements and pay no extra business rates in the first year.

This is all great news for construction trades but without wanting to be pessimistic, the government must do more to help the sector address its immediate challenges. Unless we can collectively stabilise the rising costs of materials and make significant progress in training and recruiting the 200,000+ new workers that the industry estimates it will need in the next 5-years, it won’t matter how much work is on offer – we simply won’t be able to meet demand.

Not to mention the renewed focus on net-zero that we can no longer ignore. The construction industry has the highest proportion of SME businesses of any sector – it is these that will need most support and the government must help them with the provision of practical guidance and tools to get them on their way to net zero.

I have no doubt that the forthcoming year will be as equally if not more challenging than the current one as we face into these headwinds and uncertain times together.

Robert Candy

CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SCAFFOLDING ASSOCIATION

www.scaffolding-association.org

This article was originally published in AccessPoint Magazine, if you would like to receive future editions of the magazine for free you can join the mailing list here:

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