12 December 2018
The House of Lords will debate the Science and Technology Committee’s report ”Off-site Manufacture in Construction: Building for Change” which, among other concerns, cites a need to improve the productivity of the industry.
Lord Mair has said that the principal barrier to off-site manufacturing becoming widespread in the construction industry is fragmentation and lack of collaboration.
Identifying ”presumption in favour” of off-site development in five government departments, the Baron of Cambridge would like the Government to give the policy more teeth. The resulting uptake of this process can help transform construction and tackle major problems such as an ageing workforce, low productivity and more regional jobs outside large urban areas.
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) welcomes the debate because off-site has a lot to offer construction, but it remains concerned by the lack of focus on 99% of the construction industry, our small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).
Lord Mair correctly identified the planning process as a major barrier to improving the uptake of off-site manufacturing and increasing productivity, but stops short of recognising that 99% of the construction industry suffers low productivity because of the inefficient, expensive planning process. Without certainty or a pipeline of work, SMEs in particular are not able to make decisions to grow their businesses and invest in off-site.
The Building for Change report also ignores this fact, despite multiple reports over the last decade identifying planning as the major barrier for SME business growth. Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said:
“We cannot rush into solutions without understanding the wider problems that the industry faces. Making planning easier for big companies will further fragment the industry and slow the widespread adoption of off-site construction. An ageing workforce is also cited as a reason for change, yet SMEs, who train 66% of construction workers, build less than a third of the UK’s homes. ‘Building for Change’ did not report this, or recognise that SMEs are our predominant rural employer.”