FMB warns of “significant challenges” for construction sector

SCOTTISH builders reported growth in the final quarter of 2016 but the industry faces “significant challenges” this year, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Scotland following new research.

Speaking in the wake of the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey, Gordon Nelson, director of FMB Scotland, described the results as “encouraging” but warned of the need for a “flexible immigration system” if free movement of people is consigned to history once the UK leaves the European Union.

He said, “These positive results come despite considerable headwinds being created by rising material costs and the growing scarcity of skilled tradespeople. We’ve been experiencing severe skills shortages in trades such as carpentry and roofing for quite some time and we’re now beginning to see this problem spread to other core roles such as plumbers and site managers.

“With Scottish Ministers planning major investment in new housing, infrastructure and existing homes, the Government and industry must give serious thought to how we can work together to close the skills gap. Currently the Scottish Government is making the case for Scotland remaining a part of the EU, but assuming that probably isn’t possible, it must also remind the UK Government of the need for a responsive and flexible immigration system to replace the free movement of people.”

Nelson cited housebuilding as a “critical driver” if the SME construction sector is to continue growing in 2017. “Scotland is building too few homes to meet the rising demand of a growing population,” he added. “Its ability to meet the demand for new homes is thwarted by a planning system that all too often curtails the ambitions of small scale house builders.

“The Planning Bill that is due to be introduced later this year is a fantastic opportunity for the Scottish Government to ensure that the planning system enables more small sites to come forward. The cumulative potential of small sites to deliver thousands of new homes in Scotland is huge. Smaller locally-based house builders stand ready to take up those opportunities and play a more prominent role in addressing the country’s housing crisis.”