Builders call for help after quarter of jobs lost

New figures reveal the extent of the sector's troubles. Picture: PA
New figures reveal the extent of the sector's troubles. Picture: PA
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THE crisis facing Scottish construction has been laid bare by figures showing a quarter of jobs in the industry have been lost since the credit crunch began.

Last night the Scottish Building Federation (SBF) said the figures proved the need for measures to stimulate the sector.

Updated labour market figures from Scotland’s annual population survey show the construction sector shed a further 14,500 jobs in the course of 2012, taking total employment within the Scottish industry to 172,700.

This is the lowest level of construction employment in Scotland since current records began in 2004, and shows that 62,500 building jobs have been lost north of the Border in five years.

The SBF said it was writing to Scottish and UK government ministers to draw their attention to the latest figures and to urge them to take continued action to rebuild industry capacity.

The federation’s executive director, Michael Levack, said: “We already know about the tough times building firms are currently experiencing, but these figures lay bare the huge extent of the damage done to the construction industry by the economic downturn.

“Over the past five years, more jobs have been lost from the building sector than from the Scottish economy as a whole. Since 2008, we’ve lost more than a quarter of our workforce, which is nothing short of staggering.”

He said job losses of such a scale required a targeted strategy to rebuild capacity, led by governments on both sides of the Border. He called for a cut in VAT on building repairs and maintenance to stimulate industry activity, as well as more focused support to help companies recruit and retain apprentices.

“We also need to see a sustained effort to prioritise public investment in construction activity and further measures to streamline planning and procurement to get projects off the ground more quickly,” he added.

The number of job losses experienced by the building sector outstrips the total number of jobs lost from the Scottish economy since 2008, suggesting many former builders have found work in other sectors.

Despite accounting for well under 10 per cent of Britain’s economy, weak construction output was the main drag on growth last year.

The decline continued into this year, even as the wider UK economy returned to modest growth. The latest official figures showed that output was 7 per cent lower year-on-year in February.

More recently, survey evidence suggests the sector may have turned a corner, as construction firms benefited from a catch-up in work after a disruption caused by cold weather earlier in the year.

However, it still faces headwinds from limited public spending, a still weak economy, subdued housing market activity and problems in getting funding for large-scale projects.

Both the Scottish and UK governments have schemes to encourage housebuilders by offering help to some buyers struggling to get a mortgage. In England, a much larger scheme offering up to 20 per cent deposit contributions was unveiled in the last Budget.