21st October Journal Column

CENE By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

It’s been 12 months since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into effect. The Act states an offence is committed if someone holds another person in slavery or servitude or requires them to perform forced or compulsory labour. It applies to every organisation, regardless of size.
The legislation increased the maximum jail term for people traffickers from 14 years to life, and gave courts in England and Wales powers to impose orders to restrict the activities of suspected traffickers.

Businesses, especially those in our industry, need to be aware of what the Modern Slavery Act entails and ensure they comply with it. For those that don’t, they have more to worry about than just criminal prosecution and fines, (which alone are bad enough) – their own, and their clients’, reputation and brand is also massively at risk.

Over the years the government has refocused its attention on tackling modern slavery. Theresa May has shown her commitment to tackling the issue and pledged over £33 million to create a five-year International Modern Slavery Fund to help high-risk countries. The government may also be tempted to ‘name and shame’ key businesses which drag their heels. The Prime Minister has made it very clear she isn’t afraid of name-checking companies that aren’t doing as they should, she proved this by calling out major infrastructure projects and companies in her speech at the Conservative Party Conference last week, so it’s vital that businesses know what is expected of them.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) released a toolkit back in July for construction companies that looks at the causes of modern slavery and areas of good practice. It also released a series of reports on the state of labour exploitation in supply chains and collaborated with the multi-stakeholder initiative Stronger Together to develop advice and guidance for its membership. It’s good to see companies and organisations actually taking action against slavery, and helping organisations move further away from it. With regards to awareness, we’re in a much better position than we were last year.

The first year of the Act has been more of an awareness campaign, and that’s definitely what was needed. In a recent survey by the Supply Chain School that surveyed 14,000 construction industry members, it was found that 75 per cent of respondents said they knew what the Act covered and how it affected their organisation. But more than half (51 per cent) of those surveyed stated they either did not know, or were unsure what actual steps to take.

House builder Barratt Developments has taken a step in the right direction, announcing on Anti-Slavery Day earlier this week that it has completely reviewed its supply chain and has set up a dedicated whistle-blower hotline to combat modern slavery. Now that everyone is aware of what is required of them, there’s no more time for excuses and there is now an urgent need for more companies to step up and turn their awareness into actions.

14th October Journal Column

CENEBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The Conservative Party Conference drew to a close last week and while Theresa May said very little about policy in her final speech of the event, she did make her vision for the country very clear. In her own words ‘change is going to come’.

She made some significant comments about state intervention, which was interesting to hear, given that the common view across our industry over the past few months has been that the only way we will hit our 2025 homes target is if we have support from the state – (and rumours on the industry grapevine since the speech have suggested we’ll get exactly that).

Housing minister, Gavin Barwell has said he sees his job as ‘intervening’. Having such support from the state would mean we get more money and more public land to help SMEs enter the market, which is exactly what I was crying out for just last week.

The Prime Minister made it very clear she isn’t afraid of making the tough decisions needed to get Britain building, name-checking many major infrastructure projects along the way. I feel like this has been a long time coming, we’ve long needed someone with this attitude who isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions to get the industry to where it needs to be.

The PM disowned George Osborne’s 2020 budget surplus target, promising to “invest in the things that matter, the things with a long-term return” – most of all housing. It’s time to tackle the problems that have been holding the country and the industry back, time to tackle the shortage of affordable homes and invest in our infrastructure. She is more than happy to go forward with plans for High Speed 2, with further plans to expand Britain’s airport capacity.

High housing costs and the growing gap between those on the property ladder and those who are not are the main reasons for falling social mobility, falling savings and low productivity. May has vowed to do everything she can to financially help people buy their own home and has admitted that Help to Buy and Right to Buy are the right things to help us achieve that. But before we can help people buy a home we must first address the issue of their simply not being enough homes being built. It means encouraging and not being afraid of new technologies that will help us to build houses quicker.

In the PM’s own words ‘you need to put the hours in and the effort too, if you do, great things can happen. Great changes can occur.’ – I couldn’t agree more, time and effort have the power to give Britain and the industry all of the things we need to thrive.
Now these plans all sound very promising, but we’ll have to until the Autumn Statement in November to see if there are plans to follow through with this ideas … here’s hoping!

7th October Journal Column

CENEBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

New research has found that SME housebuilders have limited areas on which they can build. The research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) shows that two-thirds of SMEs have claimed a lack of available land is the biggest barrier to building new homes. And it’s not the first time- this is the second year in a row the FMB’s annual House Builders’ Survey has shown a lack of available and viable land as being the biggest barrier for SMEs.

The problem no longer lies with a skills shortage, we have the workers, they want to work, but the biggest challenge lies solely in the planning process. If the building of new homes is on the decline, there will eventually be no sites for SME builders to work on.
At the minute the focus seems to be all on large sites, which is pushing out the smaller developers. The lack of opportunities for smaller developments is one of the reasons the number of homes by SMEs has fell from two thirds to less than a quarter in the last few decades.
95 per cent of SME housebuilders have reported that the information demands they are faced with during the planning process are even worse, or just as bad, as ever before.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB said that SME housebuilders should be seen as a key component of the government’s housing strategy, which means sites should be granted to them – and I couldn’t agree more!

Another simple solution to this problem is ensuring that planning departments have the capacity to engage more closely with SME house builders, ensuring planning applications are processed through the system as quickly and efficiently as they can be. Currently, the planning system treat a 300-home application in almost the same way it treats a three-home application- yet, there’s no reason for it to take the same amount of time for the two applications to be processed.

The government also need to stop bigger house builders from holding on to land without developing it in a bid to get small builders to enter the market to solve the housing crisis. It’s a waste of perfectly good land that small builders could be taking full advantage of.
You’d think the government would be doing all it can to encourage the build of new homes considering it failed to hit its target for new homes last year. Figures show that the number of new homes built between 2014 – 2015 did increase but the total is still less than half the 275,000 annual government target. In order to meet the target, they need all the help they can get, and SME house builders could be the answer to all of their problems.