Where are the people to build more houses?
John Healey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, has a blunt message for the house building industry:
“You know what’s coming; you need to raise your game a great deal more to make sure that, for your own business interests, never mind the interests of the country, you’re able to recruit, retain and train a lot more Brits for the jobs that we’re going to need in housebuilding and construction post-Brexit – because the easy supply from elsewhere in the EU will no longer be available to you.”
Mr Healey’s comments, made in an interview in First, the magazine of the Local Government Association, are echoed across the political spectrum.
In 2016, a little over 140,000 houses were completed. Labour wants the industry to boost housebuilding by 42%, to 200,000 a year. The Conservatives want a little over 205,000 houses built annually for the next three years, and then 250,000 a year in 2021 and 2022. The Liberal Democrats are even more ambitious, calling for 300,000 houses a year to be being built by 2022.
How do the political parties see the housebuilding industry increasing output by that much in five years, especially in the cities such as Liverpool and Manchester where the construction industry is already busy? We don’t know.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats both say that if the private sector can’t or won’t deliver, then the public sector should do the job. They have a case – the housebuilding boom of the 1950s and 60s was delivered in large part by local authorities.
But just as there’s no magic money tree, we don’t have a magic pool of construction workers. And that’s as true for the public sector as the private. Tens of thousands of European workers are choosing to leave the UK. Our economy has gone from being the strongest in the G7 to the weakest. The weak pound and rising inflation are making materials more expensive. So where are all these extra people going to come from?
Remember, this isn’t about maintaining a steady-state. This is about increasing housebuilding completions by between 42% and 113% in just five years. We’ve not seen that sort of increase since the post-war period, and back then there were rather more people entering the labour market than today.
Shaping our world
In Remarkable Group we see our clients doing all they can to rise to the challenge. Construction companies are expanding apprenticeship schemes, enhancing training and growing the workforce as best they can. Local councils and Combined Authorities share these aims. Mayors and councillors want to see new homes built once they’ve been approved and we see that frustration come through in the debates on Local plans and the GMSF.
If the politicians’ ambitious proposals are to be delivered, they will have to do more than publish aspirational numbers. Giving local authorities a bigger role in house-building will not be enough either, though it may help. Without the skilled construction workers to do the job, whether in the private or public sector, the ambitions will stay as just that.
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