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Iain McIlwee. Credit BWF

Time for Osborne not to be a Woodentop

The joinery industry is demanding Chancellor Osborne comes up with long term answers to the housing shortfall, skills gaps and sustainable construction

In time for the Budget from Chancellor George Osborne, the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) has pressed again for the government to provide greater support for small businesses as well as having skills growth in the UK at the centre of its financial plans for the year, and demanding more sustainable action to boost house building after the next General Election.

Rather like the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), which MYTTV reported on last week, its calls may be well founded but are unlikely to be in any substantial way met by a government that has set its course on more austerity and less central funding.

“We know government has made some inroads into supporting skills growth through apprenticeships, but we also know this is still a huge area of risk to the UK with significant skills shortages across the manufacturing and construction industries,” stated Iain McIlwee, Chief Executive, BWF.

However, Mr McIlwee conceded that the wood trades alone will need a net increase in labour of 4,260 every year for the next four (a rise from 244,700 in 2014 to 260,860 in 2018), according to CITB figures. Historically this shortfall would yield growth in apprenticeships, but planned changes to the process and funding were causing “real uncertainty”.

“Our membership represents the most concentrated population of apprenticeships in the UK construction industry. But moving funding away from providers to employers will create an administrative and financial burden for many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and potentially stem the number of apprentices coming through the industry. We hope government will reconsider these changes.”

SALES INCREASES

It is not all bad news for the industry, of which the BWF represents more than 700 member firms and a significant part of the £3.8 billion wood products manufacturing sector in the UK, supporting a workforce of carpentry and joinery which makes up 7% of all employed in the construction industry.

The BWF’s latest State of the Trade survey showed that woodworking factories had their third successive quarterly increase in sales volumes in the last quarter of 2014. Nevertheless, the Federation is also concerned that the underlying rate of growth has slowed over the last three quarters and the number of joinery businesses with order books extending over a month has decreased. “This may have an impact on confidence and stall much needed investment”, warned Mr McIlwee.

LATE PAYMENTS

Among the other recommendations by the BWF to the Chancellor are requests to maintain or extend support for annual investment allowances, as well as removing manufacturing plant and machinery from business rate assessments.

It also continued to urge government to clamp down heavily on late payment. “Late payment remains a serious issue which starves the supply chain of much needed capital, “ said Mr McIlwee. “The government must continue to take a strong lead and set examples by not awarding contracts to perpetual poor payers.”

The BWF also called for a renewed focus on incentives for custom and self-build, releasing sites from local authorities and encouraging greater investment from social and affordable housing providers to help meet the housing shortfall and that these should be greener homes.

“The government has set clear targets for sustainability within the construction industry – targets it will struggle to meet without the use of renewable materials. If we want to be a world leader, we should start to take a lead in carbon accounting and in doing so prioritise the use of materials that displace energy intensive alternatives and reduce pressure on the grid. In the case of housing, this means encouraging the use of low energy, timber products which lock up carbon long term.”

Caption              Iain McIlwee, Chief Executive, BWF – “The government must continue to take a strong lead and set examples by not awarding contracts to perpetual poor payers.”

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