Debbie Walsh, from RICS West Midlands, outlines her wish list for the Government’s pre-Budget report.
Government statistics show the number of people working in the construction industry fell by 17,000, or almost one per cent, between June 2007 and June 2008. However, RICS estimates that construction employment could fall by around 14 per cent peak to trough - around 300,000 job losses.
There is a serious risk that vital skills will be lost to the industry in the long term, as construction workers choose to re-train in other fields.
To address this issue the Chancellor must use the Pre-Budget Report to announce additional funding for major projects to help retain skilled workers in the construction industry. Priorities for funding must be:
* Building Schools for the Future. The Government should bring forward future phases of this scheme to renovate schools in England.
* Network Rail upgrades. Additional funding to bring forward station upgrade schemes, civil engineering projects and track work.
* New housing schemes. Housing Associations should be encouraged and funded to act as lead developers on housebuilding projects.
* Rebuilding the NHS. Additional funding should be made available for the construction of new hospitals and the refurbishment and replacement of other health facilities.
* Light rail and tram schemes. The Government should reconsider shelved transport schemes in cities.
Despite the bail out of the banks, and the large drop in interest rates, access to finance is still a key stumbling block to getting the market moving as mortgages and loans remain extremely difficult to find.
Housing transactions over the past year fell by over 60 per cent and house prices dropped an average of 7.4 per cent in the region.
The Government needs do more to increase mortgage market liquidity, particularly for first time buyers. RICS also suggests the Government uses this
opportunity to move from their temporary stamp duty change to a more permanent reform based on a marginal rate. This liquidity issue is affecting individuals and many businesses, who are finding access to finance is now so tight that their business decisions are being compromised.
In the West Midlands we remain embroiled in discussions on housing numbers. New homes are desperately needed and the Chancellor needs to ensure he takes measures to help new housebuilding start again. What’s more, the UK has 600,000 empty homes that need to be brought back into use. The Chancellor could help by reducing VAT on repair and maintenance in the first instance and giving local authorities real power rather than ineffective Empty Dwelling Management Orders.
Of course we would be remiss if we did not make reference to hopes across both the property sector and the much wider business sector that the Chancellor will do something to alleviate the impact of Empty Property Rates being levied.