FMB Scotland calls for ‘flexible’ immigration system to combat growing skills crisis

Gordon Nelson
Gordon Nelson

Scottish builders reported growth in the final three months of 2016 but skills shortages have spread from carpentry and roofing to plumbers and site managers, according to the Federation of Master Builders Scotland (FMB Scotland).

Commenting on the results of the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey for Q4 2016, Gordon Nelson, director of FMB Scotland, said the industry faces “significant challenges” during the coming year and called for the UK government to bring in a flexible immigration system to help the sector fill the skills gap after Brexit.

Mr Nelson said: “Scottish construction SMEs enjoyed a strong end to 2016 with workloads rising in the final quarter as they had in each quarter last year. Despite the pessimistic economic forecasts made in the build up to the EU referendum, these results are encouraging and demonstrate an underlying resilience in a section of the construction industry that has fought hard to recover from the protracted downturn experienced a few years earlier.

“These positive results come despite considerable headwinds being created by rising material costs and the growing scarcity of skilled tradespeople. We’ve been experiencing severe skills shortages in trades such as carpentry and roofing for quite some time and we’re now beginning to see this problem spread to other core roles such as plumbers and site managers.”

With Scottish Ministers planning major investment in new housing and infrastructure, Mr Nelson believed the government and industry must work together to close the skills gap.

“Currently the Scottish Government is making the case for Scotland remaining a part of the EU,” he said.

“Assuming that probably isn’t possible, it must also remind the UK government of the need for a responsive and flexible immigration system to replace the free movement of people.”

Mr Nelson hoped the upcoming Planning Bill would enable more small housing sites to come forward.

Nelson added: “If the SME construction sector is to continue to grow in 2017, then a critical driver of this will be house building, an area in which smaller firms continue to struggle. Scotland is building too few homes to meet the rising demand of a growing population. Its ability to meet the demand for new homes is thwarted by a planning system that all too often curtails the ambitions of small scale house builders.

“The Planning Bill that is due to be introduced later this year is a fantastic opportunity for the Scottish Government to ensure that the planning system enables more small sites to come forward. The cumulative potential of small sites to deliver thousands of new homes in Scotland is huge. Smaller locally-based house builders stand ready to take up those opportunities and play a more prominent role in addressing the country’s housing crisis.”

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