Political parties must prioritise the built environment, says BESA

Building Engineering Service Association (BESA) is calling for a meaningful set of plans for the built environment as the country approachs the General Election.

The Association has written to the main political parties offering its own ‘manifesto’, which is a political road map for improving 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 and climate change seen as key campaign battlegrounds, the Association has challenged all the parties to put in place measures for creating a safer and greener built environment along with important reforms to make the construction industry fairer, more competent and compliant with legislation.

Supply chain disruption caused by late payment must also be tackled, it said, as it would undermine many of the ambitious plans to tackle climate change claimed by politicians. BESA said the huge burden of debt created by the ongoing “systemic abuse of cash retentions” was forcing many SMEs out of business, to the detriment of the wider UK economy.

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 of building and fire safety along with the industry-led ‘Raising the Bar’ report. This should be supported by the appointment of a Building Safety Regulator, according to BESA.

BESA has also advised political parties to tackle a growing “health emergency” by getting to grips with indoor air quality (IAQ) within a new Clean Air Act. It is launching a campaign to promote the role of buildings as clean air ‘safe havens’ [#buildingsafehavens] because people, on average, spend more than 90% of their time indoors – yet most of the political focus continues to be on outdoor pollution.

However, the growing skills gap will continue to undermine the industry’s efforts in all these areas, so the new administration should put in place a comprehensive strategy for investing in apprenticeships and improving the diversity of the built environment workforce, the Association said.

“Our industry needs to do better on diversity,” says BESA President John Norfolk. “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. We simply cannot afford to waste our talent,” he added.

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.

“That in no way reduces the urgent need for a coherent plan on apprenticeships and funding for training so our industry can make a more concerted effort to develop our own skilled workforce for the future,” said Mr Norfolk. “However, cutting ourselves off from any overseas source of highly skilled people at a time like this would disadvantage our industry.” 
Politicians must seize the opportunity to set out meaningful plans for the built environment during the General Election, according to the Building Engineering Service Association (BESA).


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