According to the Building Engineering Service Association (BESA), politicians must seize the opportunity to set out meaningful plans for the built environment during the General Election

BESA has written to political parties outlining its own ‘manifesto’ suggesting how to improve the built environment. It has asked each party to adopt the proposals, which are a series of practical measures that all sides of the political divide could and should support.

For example, with the environment seen as a key campaign battleground, BESA has challenged all the parties to put in place measures for a greener built environment along with important reforms to make the construction industry fairer and compliant with legislation.

Supply chain disruption caused by late payment must also be tackled, as it would undermine many of the ambitious plans to tackle climate change claimed by politicians.

BESA has said the huge burden of debt created by the ongoing ‘systemic abuse of cash retentions’ was forcing many SMEs out of business and impacting the wider UK economy.

For example, Preston-based contractor, Marcus Worthington and Company, owed more than £9m to its supply chain when it fell into administration including nearly £1.3m in retentions. The administrator has classified most of this money as ‘unsecured debt’ so there is very little chance that sub-contractors will ever recoup their losses.

Late payments and stress

A recent survey by BESA and the ECA found that nine out of 10 small business owners were suffering from stress and other mental health conditions because of late payment. This could be tackled if the next government legislated for a Retention Deposit Scheme – as proposed in the ‘Aldous Bill’, which gained the support of 277 cross-party MPs and 85 industry groups.

Thanks to the Aldous Bill, the government has ready-made legislation with a strong coalition of supporters, which the Association believes should be passed as a priority once Parliament returns after the election.

BESA also said the new government should make it compulsory to report compliance with the Prompt Payment Code in company audits and should expand the Small Business Commissioner to include the construction industry with the power to fine persistent late payment.

BESA president, John Norfolk, said: “Late payment is draining the UK construction industry of the skills and expertise it needs to deliver our climate change goals.

“It is all very well competing to set a more ambitious net-zero carbon goal than your political rivals, but how are you going to turn ambition into reality if the supply chains needed to deliver the projects are continually disrupted by poor cash flow and insolvencies?”

Making buildings safer will also be a key issue in the election campaign and the Association believes the government should make it a priority to implement the recommendations of the ‘Building a Safer Future’ regime that followed the Hackitt Review.

BESA has also advised political parties to improve indoor air quality within a new Clean Air Act. It is launching a campaign to promote the role of buildings as clean air ‘safe havens’ because people spend more than 90% of their time indoors.

Diversity in the built environment

The growing skills gap will continue to undermine the industry’s efforts, so there should be a strategy for investing in apprenticeships and improving the diversity of the built environment workforce, BESA said.

Norfolk added: “Our industry needs to do better on diversity. We have brilliant career opportunities and exciting projects in the pipeline, but we need to work with the new government to encourage young people, women, career changers and people from BAME backgrounds to join us.

“Addressing skills shortages is not just about numbers. It is also about attracting a breadth of vision and experience that better reflects the society we are supposed to be serving.”

Attracting the right talent will also require post-Brexit Britain to recognise the important role played by professional construction tradespeople from the EU. They should be reclassified as ‘skilled workers’ for immigration purposes to give businesses access to the widest skills pool possible.

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