In this Comment piece, Robert Candy, CEO of the Scaffolding Association, talks about the events of early 2021…
On 3rd March the Government’s Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, presented his much-anticipated Budget, one which ‘meets the moment’ and sets out the next phase of the plan to tackle the coronavirus, protect jobs and support economic recovery.
This was published alongside the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
Having borrowed an eye-watering amount of money over the last 12 months, national debt is now in excess of £2 trillion, and Mr Sunak acknowledged that once economic recovery is underway then the public finances will need to be put back on track.
There was, however, positive news for the construction sector:
- The creation of a UK Infrastructure Bank which will work with the private sector and local government on a shared mission to accelerate investment in the country’s infrastructure.
- £126 million to enable 40,000 more traineeships, and £3,000 for each apprentice hired.
- A freeze on fuel duty for the 11th consecutive year.
- A £520 million Help to Grow scheme which will provide the digital and management tools needed to innovate, grow and help drive recovery.
- A super-deduction that will cut companies’ tax bill by 25p for every £1 invested in equipment.
Combined with extensions to furlough, self-employed support, business grants, loans and VAT cuts, it would appear that the Government is committed to driving our economic recovery, so in the short term businesses have some degree of certainty.
The Budget injected an extra £1.65 billion into the COVID-19 vaccination programme and a further £50 million to boost the UK’s vaccine testing capability – moves which should contribute to a return to normality.
Mr Sunak’s proposed salary increase for health workers was released on 11th March. The “based on affordability” 1% rise could actually be a real-terms cut due to forecast inflation and has demoralised NHS staff who have just faced the toughest year of their careers.
Frustratingly, HMRC pushed ahead on 1st March with the VAT reverse charge for building and construction services.
The Scaffolding Association, alongside other trade bodies, had lobbied for the charge to be stopped, or at least delayed until the sector had fully recovered from the economic effects of the pandemic.
This change is likely to have a significant negative impact on cash flow, particularly in the short term, and has come at what is already a difficult time. For more information about how this charge affects contractors read the article by MPA on page 19.
The quality and availability of scaffold training has been a long running problem for our sector, with many contractors keen to upskill their workforce but finding themselves unable to access the support needed. Combined with the challenges attributable to the pandemic we are at risk of having a skills gap that continues to widen at such a rate that it might soon be impossible to close.
When National Apprenticeship Week took place in February it was gratifying to see so many scaffolding businesses supporting young people and helping the sector improve its expertise.
However, there is still much work to be done – we must continue to push hard to achieve progress.
Hopefully, when the next issue of AccessPoint is published, our sector (and the whole of the UK) will be in a healthier place.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SCAFFOLDING ASSOCIATION
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:
You can read the latest edition of the magazine online here;