Time to fly the flag again

What we have we prize not to the worth
Whilse we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours.

Eleven years ago, three organisations across the construction industry supply chain – the BMF, the FMB and the Modern Masonry Alliance – came together in Parliament to launch the Get Britain Building Campaign.
The idea was to raise awareness of the importance of the UK building industry to the wider economy and galvanise the Government (Labour in those days) into action to help the construction sector. This was in 2008 and the industry was suffering. Big time, in the wake of the sub-prime financial crash. In the 15 years before then, the country was building 180,000 houses a year – still not sufficient for our needs but something. Overnight, that plummeted to 80,000. It was like a tap had been turned off and it didn’t start again until 400,000 jobs had been lost and 30% of the manufacturing capacity had closed or been mothballed.
Did it work? Probably. Possibly. There was certainly a lot of money poured into the industry from successive governments to try and get things moving again. Labour had its Kickstart programme for starters, back when John Healey was housing minister, then we had Help to Buy which helped boost demand so housebuilders knew they would be able to sell what they built. We had Boris waving his Ibstock brick around at the Tory Party Conference and even David Cameron announced he wanted to Get Britain Building again in 2011.
However, the fact remains that we are still not building sufficient homes for our housing needs, so yesterday saw the launch at JCB’s World HQ of Get Britain Building 2020 – Son of GBB, if you like. Again a coalition between supply chain organisations – the BMF, the FMB and Building Alliance – it aims to highlight the multiplier effect of buying UK produced materials and building new homes using local builders, which could deliver a £94bn return to the UK economy at current rates of build.
The campaign is also calling for a major investment in our existing housing stock, to help achieve the government’s Net Zero Carbon target by 2050 and to encourage owner-occupiers to adapt their homes to meet changing needs.
And, because the skills gap is another issue – one that the governments recently announced points-based immigration policy is likely to exacerbate, the campaign will be calling upon Government to work with the industry and educators to increase the take up of construction apprenticeships and introduce an upskilling programme to encourage continuous improvement across the sector.
There may be people in government that are on board with the need for investment in the construction industry, in apprenticeships and in our housing stock, but too often their attention gets diverted to other, more headline-friendly issues. This campaign may not solve the issues in one fell swoop, but getting Government to listen to the industry will be a start.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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