A five-point plan for the new government to improve the UK’s built environment has been set out by engineering services body ECA.
The proposals include reforming cash retentions, reducing false self-employment, and preventing the use of unskilled labour. ECA CEO Steve Bratt commented, “If the new government is to deliver a range of key infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail, major housing developments and renewable power generation, then it needs to promote a competitive market based on quality and innovation. Unfair, unsustainable practices such as false self-employment, cash retentions and reliance on unqualified, incompetent labour need tackling as a priority.
“The engineering services industry plays a fundamental role in improving the UK’s built environment, which in turn is the engine of progress and growth across the economy. Businesses stand ready to support government to reach its ambitious climate targets and deliver key infrastructure, but change is required to make this a reality.”
ECA’s five-point plan is as follows:
- Reform cash retentions: Cash retentions are held by private and public sector clients against their subcontractors, with some £7.8bn unpaid in the last three years. This has severely hindered business growth and in some cases, led to insolvency. ECA, BESA and a coalition of more than 90 other bodies, with the backing of more than 275 MPs, have long been pressing government to reform this practice.
- Make buildings energy efficient: To deliver on the ‘net zero’ carbon emissions commitment by 2050, the government needs to put in place a clear plan to deliver more energy efficient buildings. This needs to include policy shifts to help decarbonise buildings, and ongoing monitoring to check whether targets are being met. The use of green finance initiatives could help to achieve this.
- Build more houses: It is widely recognised that house building needs to increase to 300,000 every year if supply is to meet demand. Government needs to incentivise house builders and housing associations in order to meet this target, as well as encouraging the use of modern methods of construction, such as modular housing.
- Reduce false self-employment: ECA, alongside influential business leaders from across the construction sector, has called for higher levels of direct employment to be implemented across the supply chain, and less reliance on agency labour. Doing so will help boost productivity and innovation, strengthen health and safety on-site and deliver improved outcomes for clients, including the government.
- Ensure operatives are suitably competent: The clear view of ECA and industry partners is that the best and most practicable way of assuring competence is by individuals holding the relevant qualifications, which is often an apprenticeship or equivalent. This will help ensure work is of a higher quality, create safer buildings, and preserve standards when firms are tendering for business.
“This five-point plan is clearly on top of the government’s need to resolve the current Brexit impasse, and therefore bring certainty to businesses,” added Bratt. “The industry is increasingly keen the new government focus on delivering a compelling domestic programme for enhancing our infrastructure and boosting the built environment”.