In our latest edition of Showhome Magazine, Editor Rebecca Spayne caught up with Richard Beresford, Chief Executive, National Federation of Builders.
As we gear up for Brexit, what are the NFB doing to help guide the industry?
As well as a Brexit legal advice line, we have our NFB Brexit HUB, which is bespoke and details the various changes that will occur; including information on accessing and employing foreign labour, new arrangements for public procurement, contractual advice, cash flow, retentions and contingency planning, product marking and data protection – as well as further information on the new customs border, tariffs and regional differences.
James Butcher, our Head of Policy and Research, chairs the Brexit Construction Leadership Council (CLC) working group, which has been lobbying the Government on required actions to protect the construction industry, as well as providing helpful advice and guidance for the whole supply chain to aid business continuity.
How do you think the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the industry?
It’s been very difficult, as productivity fell considerably at the start of lockdown. We feel privileged to have helped so many great companies during the crisis because we immediately moved to offer detailed, bespoke advice and guidance, which actually saw our membership sign ups increase. However, we recognise that the wider industry has really struggled and so as well as guidance, we’ve tried to help members think about diversification and collaborated with other trade associations and the CLC to achieve government assistance.
We believe SMEs and regional contractors coped pretty well, in part because of strong lobbying efforts to keep construction open, government loans and tax breaks, such as our Stamp Duty holiday campaign but also because industry knew that by lowering productivity, social distancing could be maintained and operations could continue.
Do you think e-learning and virtual training will continue to take place post-covid?
Absolutely. It’s actually been quite positive to see the construction industry take up e-learning and virtual training with such fervour. It’s also allowed NFB to think about how we can upskill our members and press for more modern ways to do that; although we are under no illusion that there is no replacement for in person certification, to ensure quality standards remain high.
Virtual training has focused industry minds and in the NFBs opinion, we’ve been bogged down by a disjointed approach to training, with historical anomalies from the 1960’s leading the approach. We need industry to take charge because we know what we need and are best placed to implement it.
Collaboration across industry is critical, how are NFB’s strategic partnerships beneficial?
It’s been fantastic to be integral in modernising industry collaboration, such as with the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), who since our strong engagement have been much more focussed on housing, repair and maintenance and planning. We have also been able to bring a more diverse set of voices to the table.
Collaboration has always been the NFB way and as we represent the broadest industry voices, from SME builders to regional contractors, we are intrinsically aware that we’re all part of the construction supply chain. This is why we feel very comfortable working with everyone, to produce deliverable solutions.
How important is diversifying the housing market?
In the last five years the NFB, or should I say, our house building division, the House Builders Association (HBA) has made this a priority, coming up with an interesting array of policies to help achieve this. The subdivision of large sites, minimum small sites percentage in local plans and affordable housing exemptions, to name a few, are all HBA policies aiming to diversify supply opportunities.
In our recent ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation, a great deal of our suggestions were to increase the building of council homes, self-build and SME opportunity because we understand that without housing market diversification, homes will continue to become unaffordable and the best builders and local employers will continue struggling to win work.
It’s an understatement to say housing market diversification is a priority and it has been a pleasure to work with Rico Wojtulewicz, our Head of Housing and Planning, to strategise how we achieve this. The ‘Planning for the Future’ and ‘Fixing our Broken Housing Market’ consultations were no accident and I’m proud of the part NFB and HBA played in lobbying the government to bring those consultations forward.
Sustainability is a huge trend, do you think the ‘green home’ is attainable?
It absolutely is. We are releasing our second carbon report in the coming months, which will be a handbook for members but we have been on a ‘green home’ journey for quite some time. We have a ‘Future homes working group’, lobby on planning changes to enable strategic renewables, work with Natural England to build in, not just offset biodiversity and recognise the value of carbon capture in building materials, such as timber.
However, the biggest challenge is retrofitting 26 million homes, which is why we are lobbying on VAT reductions and interest free loans for retrofitting, a Stamp Duty rebate when retrofitting is carried out on old homes, or when new homes are built to a high EPC rating, planning permission reform to allow retrofitting works to be carried out more easily and a better trained industry.
Anything else to note?
We understand that we have a duty to talk to the entire industry and ensure that whether it’s the housing crisis, low construction margins, broken planning systems, failed training schemes or Brexit, we can offer guidance for members and insight for the broader industry and government.
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Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, Showhome Magazine
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922