Monday, November 28, 2016

More investment in skills needed to deliver Chancellor’s plans

The government must prioritise skills and innovation if it is to improve productivity and deliver the infrastructure and housing projects highlighted in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

The Association welcomed the announcement of a new ‘pipeline’ of projects through the government’s planning framework. It also applauded the focus on improving productivity, which sits at the heart of Philip Hammond’s economic ambitions.

“The focus on growth and infrastructure spending is very welcome and in order to be able to deliver proposed workload this needs to be accompanied by very specific investment in skills and r&d,” said BESA chief executive Paul McLaughlin. “The Chancellor is right to identify productivity as a priority and that means we need a truly diverse and multi-skilled workforce delivering projects to a very high standard.

“More support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) training is the element Mr Hammond should add to complete the productivity, project delivery and business growth jigsaw.”

Skills Gap
The Chancellor outlined £23bn worth of funding through the National Productivity Investment Fund that will support much-needed infrastructure projects and £2.3bn for housing. However, the government’s own labour market survey has identified a 25,000 gap in the construction workforce that has to be filled in order to deliver “shovel ready” projects.

“That has to be addressed before we can even start to consider future plans,” said Mr McLaughlin.

“Some contractors are already passing up opportunities to tender for projects because they don’t have the skilled workforce available,” he added. “If there is also to be a restriction on the amount of labour available from the EU; then growing our own through apprenticeships and upskilling existing workers becomes an even more pressing priority.

Therefore the funding mechanisms for apprenticeships – the new Trailblazers in particular – need to be clearly defined, protected and extended, according to Mr McLaughlin.

The push to tackle the housing shortage is another “huge opportunity”, according to BESA – and could be a valuable catalyst for driving innovation and high energy performance standards.

“The Chancellor’s ambitions in housing would be enhanced with a return to the Zero Carbon Homes commitment – as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee earlier this month – and an undertaking to support high standards, such as PassivHaus, to showcase Britain’s leadership in low carbon design,” said Mr McLaughlin.

“This would not only help improve living conditions for thousands of families, but would also take the country closer to the commitments it made in the new Paris climate change agreement,” he added.

“Building a resilient and high performing housing stock would be a great investment for our country’s future by safeguarding the population from future climate impacts and reducing energy usage. High quality, energy efficient buildings are also shown to improve the productivity of the people that work in them – this is a significant area where the building engineering sector is already adding value to UK plc.”

BESA also believes the government’s new Industrial Strategy puts the UK in a position to become a global leader in low carbon technologies – citing the fact that more than half of the country’s electricity supplies were produced by low carbon sources in the three months from July to September this year.

“That is a considerable achievement when you consider low carbon sources only accounted for 20% of total electricity generation five years ago,” said Mr McLaughlin. “May 5th this year was the first day since 1881 that the UK burned no coal at all to produce electricity.

“We are ahead of the game in many aspects of low carbon infrastructure solutions – such as energy and heat storage,” he added. “These sectors are already demonstrating how they can contribute to economic growth and another push from the government on skills and r&d would take us into a world leading position.”

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