A new start to 2018

The tail end of 2017 was not without its fair share of announcements relating to the UK house-building industry. With a raft of budget commitments to increasing new starts and aiding first-time buyers through to an industrial strategy white paper containing a sector-specific deal for construction, there’s plenty to be optimistic about as we enter 2018, says Andrew Minson of the Modern Masonry Alliance.



he year will not be without its fair share of challenges, for example, the portentous skills gap and a need to recommit to supporting British business. Just two of an ever-increasing list, both need to be confronted and surmounted.

With the above in mind, here are a few thoughts we all should consider over the coming months.

We welcomed the Chancellor’s intention to build an average 300,000 homes per year by 2025 when announced last November.

Over the past five years, a steady increase (57%) in new-build stock has already been registered and the announcement highlighted a positive, upward trend. This, no doubt, comes as encouraging news to aspiring homeowners and renters alike.

Good news aside, we need to be realistic. Delivering this policy will be a demanding task, building 300,000 houses (a 60% increase on current activity) is a stretch for all of the aspects of the housing industry. Careful preparation and contingency planning will be essential to the process.

Above all, it’s vital that no corners are cut, our housing stock must be durable, robust, long-lasting, fire-resistant, flood-resilient and energy-efficient. As an advocate of good practice across the house-building and developer sector, we promote premium materials to ensure homes can stand the test of time. The industry must guarantee any new starts are quality homes, fit-for-purpose.

Structuring the career path

One of the greatest challenges facing the construction sector is a predicted skills drain. It will be felt acutely, especially if the largely itinerant workforce are restricted from practising in the UK (due to potential new border arrangements arising from Brexit). This will potentially have a detrimental impact on new-build numbers not to mention other major infrastructure projects.

We urgently need to adopt a more sophisticated approach. Past attempts to make construction an attractive career path have been lacklustre. The focus was placed more on financial gain than on learning a vital set of skills which will help school-leavers secure employment.

So too have these essential skills been downplayed and not given the requisite air-time in the classroom or the career advice services. It’s an unavoidable truth that to build quality constructed houses we need a proficient, diverse and home-grown workforce which can meet the expected increase in new starts over the next decade.

We urgently need Parliament, our educators and the construction sector itself to communicate its strengths more effectively to capture the hearts and minds of our future workers. There’s a great opportunity for our country’s youth to get involved in an exciting, profitable and essential industry. We need to ensure we can consistently promote our sector’s many assets to the next generation.

The best of British

The Government’s commitment to boosting the British manufacturing sector is a welcome one, but as we know, actions speak louder than words. In the past, there have been plenty of hollow statements and empty promises where support for British industry is concerned.

Concrete and masonry products are generally produced in the UK and are manufactured using mostly UK constituents. It is a vital sector and one which the Government should be championing, especially with the implied trade deficit which will result following Brexit.

The late former-Prime Minister (and consummate house-builder) Harold Wilson once said: “I’m an optimist, but I’m an optimist who takes his raincoat”. Taking his cue, we would also be slightly reticent than over-confident in this case. We’ll wait to see what happens next with great anticipation.

From the perspective of the Modern Masonry Alliance (MMA), we represent a robust area of manufacturing which will be heavily involved in the push to build more new homes over the next decade. Over the next year, we’ll ensure we share our expertise with house-builders and developers to help them meet the sizeable new-build targets set by Government. Particularly, we will champion the use of masonry in such projects, emphasising its benefits from both a structural and cost perspective.

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