Construction sector sets out key election priorities

Construction workers, Shutterstock

SKILLS shortages, regulatory stability, infrastructure investment, and the promotion of greener construction initiatives are among the most pressing concerns raised by construction industry stakeholders ahead of the UK General Election.

On July 4, millions of Britons will go to the polls to elect the next members of the UK parliament. For the construction sector, the election is likely to have a significant impact on a range of issues affecting the industry.

With that in mind, Project Scotland asked a number of construction leaders what priorities they’d like politicians of all parties to be focusing on in this election to ensure a bright future.

Gordon Nelson, Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Scotland director, wants to see a commitment to driving up quality and enhancing safety.

“We all want a bright future across our industry, to inspire the next generation of master builders to work in construction and to set up their own building company,” he said. “The trouble is, anyone can call themselves a builder, with no minimum competence level required. Builders are the last in the chain of regulated practices but are the most exposed sector to bad practice. The consequences of this are that the overall construction industry is not as safe, professional nor as productive as it ought to be.

Gordon Nelson
Gordon Nelson

“We need to drive up standards and make the industry safer across the building trades and for our builders’ clients.  The new government must work with industry to introduce a licensing scheme for building firms operating in the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector. This would drive up quality and undermine incompetent and rogue traders who undermine the image and reputation of our industry.”

Innes Smith, chief executive of The Springfield Group, who has been collaborating with the wider Highland business community to help make the Inverness & Cromarty Green Freeport a success, hopes any incoming government will back the initiative so it can realise its full potential.

“The Green Freeport has the potential to transform the economy in the highlands, attracting £3 billion of fresh investment and creating 10,000 jobs,” he stated. “The migration of workers into the region means we need more homes, and with more homes we will need new community facilities including new schools and other infrastructure.

Innes Smith

“The investment expected, as development commences, will pay for these things. However, front funding of capital expenditure will undoubtedly be a big challenge locally, particularly at a time when local authority funding has been cut. To ensure the success of the Freeport and give the Highlands a real chance of ‘levelling up’, we need the strength, and borrowing power, of the UK Government to make it happen. With the UK Freeports now in motion, a priority for any incoming government should be to see these through so together we can do so much more for our local communities.”

Rod Allan, MD of Donaldson Timber Systems, believes politicians should consider setting minimum levels of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) on new housebuilding, with a standard of third-party certification for quality control.

“It has become widely recognised that one of the best ways to address housing challenges – while also helping to meet net zero carbon targets – is by using MMC technologies. Westminster has been pushing this drive for MMC through Homes England, using initiatives such as the Affordable Homes Programme, which requires all projects it funds to have at least 25% of the units delivered through MMC as calculated by Pre-Manufactured Value (PMV). This is a crucial first step to improving the quality and sustainability of new build houses, while also addressing the skills gap in the industry, and more must be done here.”

Rod Allan

John McDonald, MD – GRAHAM Investment Projects, said that addressing the housing shortage requires a ‘consistent response’ from all levels of government and highlighted the need to create an environment that attracts investment following recent challenges such as cost inflation, volatility in the funding markets, and regulatory demands.

“Through partnership with Scottish Government, we can drive innovation and create opportunities for regeneration and conversion schemes within our cities. These can play a vital role in meeting the housing demand, whilst breathing life into brownfield sites and revitalising our cities as the demand for retail and commercial space continues to change.”

Jon Dunwell, CEO of Morris & Spottiswood, warned that potential policy shifts and delayed investment decisions could impact the industry.

“Morris & Spottiswood is absolutely committed to training and development in sustainable technologies, and our new carbon solutions consultancy crbn solutions is well placed to support our clients on their journey to net zero. For us, the future of construction is both digital and green, and in this respect we would wish to see any new government support not only greener construction initiatives, but also increased funding for training skills development across the industry.

Jon Dunwell, Morris & Spottiswood
Jon Dunwell

“As a country, regardless of when we have stated we will reach net zero, enhanced skills to support new and emerging technologies is one of the most pressing issues of our industry, but also a central issue of a far broader range of industries within which we work.”

Robert Ogg, MD of Akela Construction, is also concerned with the skills gap and wants to see added focus and support from across the political spectrum to work together with industry to develop a definitive plan.

“Despite significant industry investment, the current demand for skilled workers is only going to increase as the energy and renewables sectors expand to meet net zero targets. Many potential solutions are being looked into, however a combined approach will accelerate progress. By working in unison with the government, we can create a blended solution that will address this gap and increase employment while ensuring that the UK continues to be at the forefront of innovation and the delivery of net zero and associated construction solutions.”

Robert Ogg, MD Akela Construction
Robert Ogg

John McGuire, partner at Thomas & Adamson – part of Egis Group, said net zero is a ‘huge priority’ for everyone in the construction sector, but we still have some way to go with embodied carbon and a large part of that comes down to the current ‘disconnect’ between the speed of innovation and the ability to commission projects using alternative, lower-carbon materials.

“Future policy could play an important role in pulling this together. With the right environment to encourage the use of alternatives to steel and concrete in taller buildings, and the regulatory frameworks to give confidence in their safety, we could see a huge shift in the adoption and demand for new materials such as engineered timber. At the moment, projects of this kind are expensive, risky, and buildings are difficult to insure. In France and other countries, the use of alternative materials has already increased significantly. There is a real opportunity here for the successful party to influence future market dynamics.”

John McGuire, partner at Thomas & Adamson
John McGuire

Fraser Lynes, MD of Cruden Homes, said that while the housing crisis and its numerous causes are well-documented, there is a ‘clear lack of recognition and understanding’ regarding the relationship between the skills shortage and the supply of housing.

“We need to build more homes and build them faster, yet the industry is moving in the opposite direction with a consecutive quarterly decline in annual housing completions. It is impossible to achieve this without attracting new talent into the housebuilding industry, but it is facing a lack of appeal as a valid career pathway for future generations.

Fraser Lynes

“We need the UK Government to prioritise comprehensive training programmes and initiatives to draw skilled workers into the sector. By addressing the skills shortage, we can significantly improve housing supply and affordability, ensuring a brighter future for the UK housebuilding industry and those in need of homes.”

Fellow housebuilding leader Martin Smith, CEO of Muir Group, said that after the challenges faced by the housebuilding and wider construction industry over the last few years, what is required now from the UK Government is for them to deliver economic stability.

“This would help restore much needed consumer confidence and allow the Bank of England to bring down interest rates, making mortgages much more affordable. This would really boost the industry. There are definitely some green shoots appearing with inflation reducing and the economy growing. But we must see this continue if the housebuilding industry is to address the housing emergency and drive a return back to building the homes that we so desperately need.”

Martin Smith

John Forster, chair of Forster Group, said the UK remains at a ‘critical point’ on its path to achieve net zero and he wants to see politicians engage meaningfully with the right people so they can implement policies which will make a difference now.

“Scotland and the wider UK’s failure to meet targets has been well documented. However, echoing recent remarks made by IEA, renewable energy goals, while ambitious, are achievable but only if governments act. UK policymaking for the transition to renewable energy is still dangerously inadequate to address the ever-growing issues and the right experts and organisations still don’t have a seat at the table.”

John Forster

At the start of the General Election campaign, Fiona Hodgson, chief executive of the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF), urged all political parties to focus on developing a ‘skilled and productive workforce’ to ensure the UK remains competitive. She said future government policy must support the growth of the plumbing and heating profession through ‘streamlined regulations, incentivised training, and robust practice standards’.

“This election presents a crucial opportunity for our political leaders to commit to policies that not only ignite economic growth but also foster a skilled workforce essential for national prosperity and enhancing social mobility. As we strive to boost our economy, the role of vocational professions such as plumbing and heating is increasingly vital.

Fiona Hodgson

“By equipping individuals with specialised skills and training, we are not only preparing them for immediate job opportunities but also opening doors to upward mobility and long-term career advancement.”

Michael Cairns, director of Celsius Plumbing and Heating, wants to see the next UK Government provide more incentives for companies to hire apprentices in the plumbing and heating sectors to build a workforce with green skills. “Offering tax breaks and subsidies to firms that invest in training can make a big difference. By focusing on green skills development, the government can ensure a sustainable and innovative future for the UK construction industry, supporting environmental goals and economic growth. Encouraging apprenticeships will create a skilled workforce ready for a greener future.”

Michael Cairns, director of Celsius Plumbing and Heating
Michael Cairns

Fergus Adams, MD of Dougall Baillie Associates, highlighted what he considers to be five key areas for politicians to prioritise:

1) Infrastructure: Commit to sustained and strategic investment in UK wide infrastructure projects, enhancing transport, energy, and digital networks to drive economic growth.

2) Skills: Enhance funding for training programs and apprenticeships to address the skills shortage.

3) Sustainability: Promote green building practices and renewable energy integration, incentivising sustainable construction methods to meet climate goals and reduce carbon footprints.

4) Regulatory stability: Provide a stable and clear regulatory framework to facilitate long-term planning and investment, not short-term measures to suit parliamentary timescales.

5) Housing: Address the housing crisis throughout the UK by supporting policies that accelerate the delivery of affordable homes and streamline planning processes.

“Focusing on these priorities will bolster the construction industry, fostering innovation, sustainability, and economic prosperity,” he concluded.

Fergus Adams