Next government urged to do more on skills and mental health

Ahead of next month’s General Election, the organisers of UK Construction Week (UKCW) have urged the next government to streamline the planning process, and do more to tackle mental health and the skills gap.

UKCW has welcomed several key policy pledges for the construction sector, but has gone further with own ‘wishlist’ programme from the parties vying for Number 10.

Of the welcomed Conservative pledges, there are the construction of of 1.6m homes in England through the next Parliament; fast-tracking brownfield residential developments in cities; and the introduction of reforms to “outdated” EU red tape to better protect nature, while enabling the building of new homes, new prisons, and new energy schemes.

For Labour, UKCW welcomed the pledges to: Deliver 1.5m new homes in England over the next five years; update the National Policy Planning Framework to restore mandatory housing targets; fast-track approval of urban brownfield sites; and prioritise release of ‘grey belt’ land.

And for the Liberal Democrats, welcomed pledges include: building of 380,000 new homes a year across the UK, including 150,000 social homes; introducing ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ planning permission for any developers refusing to build; and a promise to review cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 and seek a way that “provides value for money” or identify a viable alternative.

Sam Patel, UKCW’s divisional director – construction, said: “We welcome all of the key parties’ pledges to build more houses, but more needs to be done to bring young talent into the industry to address the skills gap; it’s vital that our government addresses the spiralling numbers of suicides in construction; and we urgently need a streamlined planning process.”

The team behind UKCW Birmingham has drawn up its own ‘election manifesto’, presenting its wishlist for the next government. It includes:

  • Urgently address the mental health issue in construction: In 2021, 507 construction workers took their own lives, equivalent to two workers every day. The next UK government must work with industry leaders to stem this disturbing trend. Mental health is a key focus at UKCW Birmingham and an increasingly pressing topic
  • Bridge the skills gap: The UK Trade Skills Index 2023 highlighted the need for 937,000 new recruits in the construction and trades industry over the next decade; more must be done at schools and colleges to not only raise awareness of the broad range of jobs available in construction, but also to remove the image of construction work only being ‘dirty jobs’ and only for men. UKCW Birmingham will once again be working in partnership with the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) at the Skills & Training Hub
  • There is an urgent need to streamline planning processes: The next government needs to commit to infrastructure delivery, and communicate more with contractors, clients and trade bodies to better understand how they operate

Patel added: “The UK construction industry employs over 1.5 million people and contributes more than £130bn to the economy, so it’s vital that the sector’s voice is heard by the next government.

The theme for this autumn’s UKCW Birmingham is ‘Growth’, and we’ll be unpicking the new government’s plans, discussing the industry’s own roadmap and coming together to ensure that our voice is heard.”

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