Stephen Rankin Stephen Rankin

Master builder calls for urgent reforms as industry output falls again

The country’s reigning master builder says new figures highlight an ongoing crisis in the construction industry – with major reform to planning laws and updated skills training needed to put things right.

Stephen Rankin, managing director of Warwickshire-based Vantage & Co, says official statistics which show construction output fell in April this year underline the scale of the problems facing the industry.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics show construction output in the UK declined in April for the third consecutive month. April’s fall of 1.4% follows a 0.4% fall in March and a 1.9% fall in February.

“These latest figures paint a depressing – albeit accurate – picture of the state of the construction industry at the moment,” said Stephen, whose company is the current overall Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Master Builder of the Year.

“At the same time as output is falling, another 310 construction companies became insolvent in March, taking the annual total to 4,274, the highest number of any industry measured.

“Whatever the result of the general election, getting Britain building again will need to be a top priority for the new government.”

Stephen said urgent action was needed in three crucial areas to help the industry overcome the crisis.

“We need to see a root and branch reform of the planning system, which simply cannot deliver the homes this country so badly needs, a new approach to skills training which promotes the wealth of opportunities the industry offers, and long-term measures to free up access to finance and reduce the cost of investment.

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“The planning system simply does not work for small and medium sized builders. Legislation is bloated and often contradictory, delays are endemic and the National Planning Policy Framework is being ignored in many areas.

“The number of planning applications granted approval across Great Britain fell to its lowest in nearly 20 years in the 12 months to March 2024 – clear evidence that the system cannot provide the housing pipeline we need.

“As a result, regional and local builders are being thwarted in their attempts to build the sort of homes which reflect their communities’ needs and heritage, with small housebuilders contributing just a fraction of the homes they delivered 30 years ago.

“The system has to be reformed to become quicker, more streamlined and with less red tape, with dedicated resources to ensure that smaller builders can create the homes people actually like and want.”

Stephen said a growing labour crisis – with at least 225,000 additional workers needed in the sector over the next three years according to the Construction Industry Training Board – was adding to the problems.

“This is not something which has happened overnight but very little seems to be changing to get the skilled workers we need. There is a desperate need for a national, long-term skills plan which places a greater emphasis on vocational training and which the industry can work with to encourage people into construction.

“That plan should set out clear pathways into the industry, and the opportunities for progression and upskilling as careers develop.”

Stephen said restricted access to finance and high interest rates were also causing long-term damage to smaller builders.

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“If we are serious about meeting some of the housing targets being bandied about, we must make it easier for builders to access the money they need to develop projects. It has become increasingly difficult to obtain loans from the banks and the amount of red tape involved is a major disincentive to many smaller builders.

“High interest rates at a time of soaring materials inflation has simply compounded the issue, with the dreadful results we see in the latest insolvency figures. Wider business support for local and regional builders is essential if we are to deliver the homes the country needs.”

Vantage has a strong track record of delivering award-winning homes and built a reputation across the industry for working to the very highest standards.

Earlier this year, Vantage lifted the title for best residential property of the year at the Constructing Excellence West Midlands awards for its work restoring Old Heaton House in Birmingham.

For more information about Vantage & Co visit https://www.vantageandcogroup.com/

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