Statements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer aren’t always cause for celebration, but this one has left us feeling cautiously optimistic. Chris Coxon, Head of Marketing at Eurocell plc, takes a view.

Wrapped up as the National Productivity Investment Fund – £23bn between 2017 and 2021 – Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement outlines investments in housing, transport, digital communications and R&D. Within that there’s a £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund, £1.4bn for affordable housing and £1.7m for accelerated construction to speed up house building on public land. This is obviously welcome because of the pressing issue of housing affordability.

If the Government can pump-prime supply then it would be hoped eventually that the improvements in meeting demand would reduce prices – at least at the ‘bottom’ end – and enable the next generation of home ownership.

(As an aside, one topic rarely discussed in respect of housing affordability is how much money large mortgage payments and high rents take out of the real economy, such payments vanishing into institutions and funds and not into the high street).

We will have to wait for the detail of policy in the expected Housing White Paper, to be published ‘shortly’, according to the Treasury. There have been strong hints that offsite construction will feature strongly.

Admittedly, we’ve been here before: construction is a cyclical affair. When skills shortages threaten, thoughts turn to factory-based production; call it prefab, offsite, modern methods of construction, pre-manufacture or flying factories. This would represent a radical departure from how building products currently arrive on site, and caution needs to be maintained if whole sectors of manufacture are not to be detrimentally impacted by this.

The difference this time – maybe – is that this Government understands that its ambitious housing targets will not be met without a sea-change in how housing is delivered and – here’s the important bit – that policy must drive a change. To achieve its targets of 200,00 builds (some say 250,000 to 300,000 are needed) per year, the current methodology has to be challenged and the regime appears to at least be mindful of that, if not quite yet offering solutions.

The exciting bit, for us, was news of the creation of industrial strategy challenge fund – loosely based on the US’s DARPA programme. The areas which the fund will focus on will be decided in due course, yet let’s hope it doesn’t get too hung up on ‘funky’ tech, and encompasses more prosaic sectors such as ours.

Chris Coxon

And there’s something for innovators in the tax regime too. As the statement said: “To ensure the UK tax system is strongly pro-innovation, the government will review the tax environment for R&D to look at ways to build on the introduction of the ‘above the line’ R&D tax credit to make the UK an even more competitive place to do R&D”.

Depending on how both these initiatives play out, it sounds like good news at the moment and the right words and actions from Government provide some reassurance that our investment in innovation today will bear fruit tomorrow.


The extra resources announced by the Chancellor in today’s Autumn Statement for social housing and infrastructure investment will be welcomed by the construction industry.

The promised additional funding should help to address the need for more affordable homes and tackle the shortfalls in the UK’s transport infrastructure. It will also help to offset the impact of faltering in private sector investment on industry workloads.

Social housing providers already have a strong development pipeline, but the realisation of planned projects has been frustrated by recent changes in Government policy. It is vital that the measures announced in today’s statement are implement as soon as possible to enable projects to be quickly brought to site.

The provision of an additional £1.3 billion of additional funds for local and national road projects should help Highways England and councils to accelerate small scale improvements to address ‘pinch points’ in the road network. These schemes can potentially help tackle congestion and improve the UK’s competitive position.

Glenigan data reveals a firm pipeline of projects that have cleared the planning hurdles and could potentially be quickly brought on to site.

The Government’s commitment to supporting a sustained increase in investment in built environment is also encouraging. The new National Productivity Investment Fund promises to add £23 billion in high-value investment from 2017-18 to 2021-22, with the government target this spending at areas that are critical for productivity: housing, research and development and economic infrastructure.

Increasing productivity – put your money where your mouth is

Whilst the budget was a largely positive message for the construction industry, some are understandably weary of whether was has been promised will come into fruition and make Britain productive once more.

Paul Dossett, Partner at Grant Thornton, UK LLP, thinks that building roads and bridges will not solve the UK’s productivity problem. In response to the Chancellor’s announcements around boosting infrastructure, said “Our research with the CEBR has found that if UK productivity reached that of the G7 it would boost GDP by £382bn by 2025. While the government’s focus on infrastructure is welcome, building houses, roads and broadband networks is not the sole answer to addressing the productivity gap between the capital and the rest of the UK. Our Vibrant Economy Index shows the challenges faced by many places in the UK is cultural. Infrastructure is important but building roads and bridges will not solve the productivity problem alone. Instead, we need to start at school, build aspirations and community involvement, and focus on measures that will improve not only economic prosperity but increase the health, happiness and wellbeing of the population.”

Chairman Richard Steer of Gleeds Worldwide commented “The new productivity fund sounds good but we have heard this type of thing before and, whilst it is argued that it will be funded by increased borrowing, the main issue is confidence in the UK and this was not a budget that is going to help enhance the value in the sterling which effects costs, or persuade private sector funders to invest. It was an inward looking budget that appeared to deliver opportunities via raised borrowing. The increased profile of housebuilding initiatives is to be welcomed but until we know answers to questions like whether or not we will have free access to skilled labour, one feels it was more of a wish list than a reliable fiscal forecast.”

Recent studies by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) have suggested that a third of small construction firms are actually being put off from offering apprenticeships due to the bureaucracy involved. The report, entitled “Defusing the skills time bomb”, explains further.

Chief Executive of the FMB, Brian Berry commented “The construction industry is in the midst of a skills crisis which can only be solved if more employers take on apprentices. The Government wants to deliver three million apprentices over the next five years and this new report sheds some light on how this can be achieved. Our research shows that 94% of small construction firms want to train apprentices but a third are being turned off by a number of serious “fear factors”. These include the cost of employing and training an apprentice and major concerns regarding the complexity of the process.”

“There is strong evidence to show that small construction firms need better information and that if they were more aware of the support that’s available, a great number would train apprentices. Just under 80% of non-recruiters are not aware of one of the most important apprenticeship grants available to them and just over 75% say knowledge of financial support would make them more likely to take on apprentices.”

“Given that two-thirds of all construction apprentices are trained by SMEs, it is critical that the Government does everything in its power to remove any barriers that might be stopping these companies from training. Looking ahead, the Government’s new apprenticeship voucher could be a disaster for small firms unless it is properly road tested and made as simple and easy-to-use as possible. We’re also calling on the Government to protect our industry training board which is at risk from the new Apprenticeship Levy. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) needs reform admittedly but without it the very smallest firms would be left with less financial and practical support for apprenticeship training – remove this lifeline and you risk worsening the skills crisis.”

The FMB isn’t the only body voicing concerns over announcements made in the Autumn Statement. The British Chamber of Commerce have also called for greater clarity on the apprenticeship levy.

Executive Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Dr Adam Marshall said “Businesses want to tackle skills shortages and drive up productivity, but the apprenticeship levy risks having the reverse effect.”

“A lack of clarity around the scope, rate and scale is having a huge impact on business confidence. Many firms have decided to put training and investment on hold, and are concerned about the knock on effects of the levy on their cash flow, existing training schemes, and the bottom line. It’s important that this levy doesn’t undermine other types of vocational training, which could be better suited to some businesses.”

“While businesses back the government’s drive to boost apprenticeships, they have real concerns about the current approach. The government must focus on improving the quality of apprenticeships to make them more attractive to employers, and provide clarity on how they will be paid for as soon as possible.”

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In the wake of today’s statement, the industry is currently abuzz with chatter about whether Osborne’s plans will affect the housing sectors for better or worse. Here is what some of the big names in housing are saying regarding the latest spending review.

Skills shortage threatens 400,000 home target

The construction skills shortage could scupper the Chancellor’s vision for 400,000 new affordable homes, warns the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) in response to today’s announcements in the Spending Review.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “Faced with some difficult decisions regarding public spending cuts, today the Chancellor was right to ‘choose housing’ by prioritising investment in new affordable homes. The Government has confirmed plans to build 200,000 starter homes with 20% discounts for under-40s, 135,000 shared ownership homes, 10,000 rent-to-buy homes and 8,000 specialist properties for the elderly and disabled. This amounts to a £7bn public investment in new homes – a concerted effort to give aspirational home owners a helping hand onto the housing ladder.”

“Nevertheless, ‘George the Builder’ will need a new generation of ‘real’ builders to make his vision for housing a reality. We’re already seeing housing developments starting to stall because the cost of hiring skilled tradespeople is threatening to make some sites simply unviable. Unless we see a massive uplift in apprenticeship training in our industry, there won’t be enough pairs of hands to deliver more housing on this scale. That’s why we’re keen for the Government to tread carefully when applying the new proposed Apprenticeship Levy to the construction industry.”

“The Chancellor clearly recognises that the crisis of home ownership is inextricably linked to a crisis in house building. We therefore hope that in order to address both, the Government will do everything it can to increase house building capacity. SME developers will have an important role to play in delivering the smaller scale sites across the country. The last time we built in excess of 200,000 homes in one year was in the late 1980s when two-thirds of all homes were built by small developers. SME house builders now only build little over one quarter of all new homes which points to another serious capacity issue – we need more small house builders to enter the market and also for SME house builders to crank up their delivery of new homes in order to build the Chancellors 400,000 new affordable homes.”

Planning reform is needed

Greg Hill, Strategy and Change Management Director at Hill, said “Extra funding for starter homes is great news for prospective homebuyers, and will undoubtedly help to get more first time buyers and young families on to the housing ladder. Shared ownership properties too are a great way for young people to buy a home without a large deposit. It is certainly the case that the size of deposit required to buy a home acts as a major barrier to first time buyers entering the housing market and these initiatives will go some way to addressing the problem.”

“However, it still remains that a crucial issue over the coming years will be whether the UK housing industry is structurally able to supply the volume of homes needed to meet government targets. Planning reform, as well as greater investment in skills and training for careers in construction, are essential if the industry is to deliver the extra homes in the timeframes that Britain needs. We have a rapidly ageing workforce, with many tradesmen and skilled professionals due to retire in the next few years – the industry may struggle to deliver these 400,000 new homes if the gap in capacity is not filled.”

“If the industry is to build more homes, we also need to ensure that council planning departments have enough resources to make quick decisions on planning applications. The budget cuts that have also been announced today as part of the spending review could have an impact on local authorities’ ability to make decisions quickly.”

Lack of confidence in conservatives

Steve Sanham, development director at HUB Residential, said “With the government promising to subsidise homeownership for the masses, the Chancellor has effectively admitted that it can’t get the housing market under control. It appears that the housing policies of the past few decades have been an utter failure.”

“The problem hasn’t been a lack of ‘affordable housing’, rather a lack of affordability in general. Investment in infrastructure to bring new areas on line for development, and freeing up the bureaucracy of the planning system, are the only ways to bring ‘market homes’ within the reach of first time buyers. New headline grabbing affordable housing initiatives smack of more short-termism, and an inability or unwillingness of the government to grasp the big issues.”

‘Crisis Brewing For Social Housing’

Matthew Hyam, partner at BLM said “While targeting housing benefit directly might drive down the welfare bill in the short term, it will inevitably intensify the problems facing social landlords in building new affordable homes.”

“Although the Chancellor has made a huge £7bn commitment to affordable housing in this Statement, the impact of cuts on the social sector has already been immense. In the face of further financial difficulties, there will inevitably need to be a clearer focus on tenant support and arrears enforcement in order to ensure financial viability.”

“The social housing sector has been learning to cope with the effects of welfare reform for some time now and, with the dust barely settled on rent reductions and universal credit, social housing providers are in a more precarious position than ever.”

Positivity on housebuilding

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation said “The Government is clearly committed to increasing both housing supply and home ownership. Measures introduced in recent years have led to a big increase in house building levels but the scale of the challenge requires further action to close the gap between demand and supply. The Chancellor’s announcements today will provide extra impetus to deliver further increases in housing supply.”

Peter Quinn, Lovell director of business development said “We welcome any stimulus that will increase the supply of housing in this country. There are many parts of the country where we see great housing need and these measures will undoubtedly assist people onto the housing ladder, ‘Starter Homes’ will especially help the firs- time buyers wanting to purchase a Lovell home. However, we remain concerned that even this initiative will remain out of reach for those that cannot afford home ownership, and we need to continue to develop affordable rented housing especially in high value areas.”

Greg Hill, Strategy and Change Management Director at Hill, said “Extra funding for starter homes is great news for prospective homebuyers, and will undoubtedly help to get more first time buyers and young families on to the housing ladder. Shared ownership properties too are a great way for young people to buy a home without a large deposit. It is certainly the case that the size of deposit required to buy a home acts as a major barrier to first time buyers entering the housing market and these initiatives will go some way to addressing the problem.”

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