Do more for small and medium sized building firms, is the National Federation of Builders’ (NFB) message to the Chancellor.
“Overall we have given a cautious welcome to the Autumn Statement,” the NFB’s Chief Executive Julia Evans tells Central Lobby.
“There are some measures that will benefit construction and others that have a question mark over them.”
In the Statement, George Osborne announced £5bn of investment spending by 2015.
Planned housing developments that were delayed because of poor economic conditions will be boosted with a £225m capital injection aimed at bringing 50,000 new homes on to the market.
Ms Evans says from an SME point of view, “more could have been done”.
“We are seeing a lot of money being directed at larger volume house builders rather than SMEs or local builders or lower volume builders.
“With a little bit of funding they should be able to unlock their sites and get their projects back up and running, and more effort should be made in that area.”
The NFB said refusal rates for loans to SMEs are running at a third and banks are reluctant to lend at all to sectors they see as high risk, such as construction.
Ms Evans said: “It is the smaller projects that will generate the most growth, the most employment and keep local economies afloat.”
The Chancellor announced £980 million to fund 100 new academies and free schools and expand good schools in areas with the greatest pressure on places.
An additional £270 million of capital investment to improve buildings and facilities in further education colleges in England was also announced.
Ms Evans says that money for schools infrastructure will “stimulate local firms who are part of the supply chain. Essentially it will be the much larger contractors who get those contracts.
“Smaller builders will benefit as part of the supply chain. It will also benefit local economies as well we know from CBI research that for every £1 a construction worker earns 90p is spent locally.”
The building trade has traditionally been a big supplier of apprenticeships. Ms Evans says NFB members have found that “increasingly difficult to do that for the past few years because the work isn’t there”.
“We need to look at how we structure apprenticeships.
“We welcome the Richard review and how it has defined apprenticeships and taken a much more strategic view of how apprenticeships can be benefit companies and the economy.”
The Chancellor has accepted key recommendations of a recent policy review by Lord Heseltine in his Autumn Statement, including the creation of a single funding pot covering housing, skills, transport and efforts to tackle unemployment.
There will be new powers, funding and responsibilities for funding local enterprise partnerships.
“We have always supported the idea of local enterprise partnerships and we are involved closely with a few of them,” says Ms Evans.
“We have found that it is a great idea that has not realised its potential and has not been funded properly it is great news that a lot of disparate funds are being put into one pot.
“It takes a lot of effort to apply for different types of funding so having that one central body saves a lot of time and money and allows LEPs to focus on what they want to achieve.”
As for lending, it remains a major problem for SME building firms, despite a slew of Government failed initiatives, such as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme, the National Loan Guarantee Scheme, Project Merlin and Funding for Lending.
The latest from the Chancellor is a £1bn business bank would suggest an improvement on previous initiatives as lending to construction firms continues to fall.
“The most important thing to say about the business bank is that the government clearly recognises there is an issue (with lending),” says Ms Evans.
“But whether or not that measure will address the problems SMEs are facing with finance remains to be seen because there was no detail on the table at all.”
The Government has also pledged an extra £300m for the Affordable Homes programme to provide 15,000 affordable homes and bring 5,000 empty homes back into use.
This will provide a welcome boost for the repair, maintenance and improvement sector.
“For every home that is built, there is potential for the creation of two additional jobs in refurbishment,” says Ms Evans.
“Anything that will boost the refurbishment sector is particularly welcome.
“People think of construction as houses being all about new build but refurbishment and maintenance is an incredibly important sector as well especially with the Green Deal launch in the new year.
“We are cautious supporters of the Green Deal, we think it is a good idea, but we are working to ensure our members have access to that market.
“We know that 14 million households need to be refurbished but we don’t k now how many of those home will want Green Deal refurbishment.
“There is a huge amount of potential but we as an industry and the government have a huge undertaking in terms of raising public and industry awareness of what the Green Deal is, and what the opportunities are. Until we do that effectively, that potential market could evaporate.”
Ms Evans says the construction industry is forecast to see growth in 2014, a result of the recent government investments in infrastructure, planning and housing which will have started to yield benefits.