Construction is bouncing back from historically sluggish activity levels during the coronavirus lockdown, but this relative optimism must be converted into long-term growth and jobs, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
This is in response to recent UK construction economic data which shows output rising for the second month in a row, largely driven by house building. Despite this catch up, however, job losses have begun, with 34% of respondents reporting a fall in employment over the period.
Investment is needed that will avoid the industry falling off a cliff edge when emergency measures to support the economy come to an end early next year. It’s essential to avoid a boom and bust cycle that further risks job losses and more precarity.
FMB is calling for greater investment in energy efficiency measures and a more ambitious strategy to upgrade the nation’s homes. This will lead to more activity and jobs in local building firms, a reduction in carbon emissions, and warmer, healthier homes. With an aging housing stock and many older derelict properties, regeneration and restoration builds communities up and provides the homes we need as a society.
FMB are calling for an ambitious national energy efficiency retrofit strategy that builds on the Green Homes Grants scheme (currently in place in England), to give long-term confidence in this growing market and to achieve the scale of change that’s needed.
The construction recovery must have local builders at its heart. These small firms employ local people, compete on reputation by delivering high quality work, and train the majority of apprentices in the industry. For too long we see planes full of NI workers leaving to work elsewhere, affecting families, communities and the local industry. Greater investment is needed for construction skills and training to help convert any new entrants on short-term programmes into long term assets to the industry.
Construction is rich with entrepreneurial spirit, and by giving today’s apprentices high-quality training and experiences, they’ll be the business owners of tomorrow. All these interventions are crucial to ensuring our industry succeeds in the long-term.
The Stormont Executive must prioritise bringing forward planning reforms and investing in local authority planning departments to help house builders start building out new sites swiftly.
The next few months may seem to be rocky waters of uncertainty. However with the resilience of our Industry evident over many years, if its backed by Investment and vision, there are strong reasons to look confidently at the future.