Don’t blow the budget bonus, warns ECA
In advance of next week’s Budget, the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) says that increasing funding for youth employment must be accompanied by investment in projects. Otherwise, the government will waste the benefits of an anticipated Budget bonus.Following recent speculation that there may be an unforseen £10 billion available to spend as a result of decreased borrowing, ECA Group CEO Steve Bratt suggests that spending this cash on kickstarting construction projects and apprenticeship funding will create a virtuous circle.
Bratt said, ‘It is more important than ever to use public money to create employment opportunities. This cash must be used to help boost industry recognised apprenticeships, but also to stimulate housebuilders and other construction clients to start new projects. We cannot do ‘either-or’. If the government is serious about driving an economic recovery, it must not only support employment opportunities for young people, but also create a business climate where employers can afford to commit to taking on new employees. Anything less will make a recovery far harder to achieve.’
The ECA believes a radical shake up of apprenticeship funding would be an important first step. Bratt said, ‘Apprenticeships are a substantial investment for employers in our industry, lasting up to four years. Yet construction contractors are unfairly penalised by apprenticeship funding. They can often only train apprentices on site once they are over 18, for health and safety reasons. However, apprenticeships for over 18s receive 50 per cent or less of this funding, depending on their age. Equalising apprenticeship funding would do much to help contractors train the next generation of a vital skilled workforce. A high proportion of this funding should also be available up front so contractors aren’t financially punished for investing in young people.’
However, Bratt warned that increased funding is only part of the solution. ‘Ultimately, employers in our sector need projects if they are to sustain their employees. The Autumn Statement announcement on increasing infrastructure spend was a good start, but we urgently need investment in housebuilding and commercial development. Doing so would help get people off the dole and the economy back on its feet.’
The ECA also believes that tax breaks for businesses would do much to improve prospects. ‘A business rates holiday would give SMEs, the lifeblood of our economy, some breathing space while project investment trickles down. Recovery in construction will always lag behind a recovery in the general economy, and contractors need this lifeline to help them weather the storm until things get better,’ said Bratt.
Following the recent FiTs rulings, the ECA also hopes that the Budget may draw a line under ongoing industry confusion. ‘ECA members are the frontline troops in delivering sustainability, and are essential if the government wants initiatives such as the Green Deal and FiTs to succeed. However, consumer confusion over both policies is rife. While we know that £200m has been allocated to the Green Deal, it is not clear how this money will be spent. If the Budget gives some clarity on this issue, customers can start planning for the future, and electrical contractors can get on with what they do best – delivering energy efficiency, providing employment and supporting the economy,’ concluded Bratt.