Scrap apprenticeship levy to get more people into green building jobs, Lords urge Government
The House of Lords' Built Environment Committee is warning the UK Government that its approach to housebuilding is out of kilter with national commitments on levelling up and the environment, and that key ambitions won't be realised without better support for training and education.
The Committee has today (10 January) published the concluding report to its inquiry on meeting housing demand, which closed last September. The report berates Ministers for failing to plan for the delivery of its commitment for 300,000 new homes in the UK annually from 2024; for failing to acknowledge that this target may be too low and for not ensuring that the Government’s approach contributes to long-term commitments on social and environmental sustainability.
“We are facing a national housing crisis, which is only exacerbated by uncertainty and a lack of clear policy direction,” the report states. “The Government needs to take urgent action.”
One issue highlighted with both social and environmental consequences is the fact that the UK has some of the oldest and least energy-efficient homes in Europe. Energy inefficiency in homes can contribute to fuel poverty, contribute to health and wellbeing issues and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
The report cites previous research from the New Economics Foundation, conducted in 2021, which concluded that the UK will need 36,000 trained retrofit specialists to meet the demand for installations such as triple glazing, insulation and efficient heating by 2025 – if housing is to decarbonise in line with net-zero. At present, there are less than 200 across the country.
The Committee is recommending that the Apprenticeship Levy, under which businesses with a pay bill over £3m also pay 0.5% towards the Government’s apprenticeship programmes, is scrapped. It argues that the number of people starting apprenticeships has fallen since the Levy’s introduction – by 26% year-on-year across all sectors in the first instance. In the construction and retrofit sectors specifically, steeper reductions have been recorded in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19.
The report additionally states that the Committee will be watching with interest as a new ‘flexi-job’ construction apprenticeship scheme launches this month. The scheme was announced last summer and will enable apprentices to work across different projects with multiple employers, thus building different skills. Businesses supporting the scheme include Balfour Beatty and WSP.
Also proposed is the introduction of more lessons relating to building skills in the national curriculum. The report highlights the Welsh Government’s decision to launch a Built Environment GCSE in 2021 as exemplary, highlighting the fact that there are only vocational options available to under-16s in England at present, and that some vocational qualifications including new T Levels may not be accessible for those starting out.
Other recommendations on skills include improving innovative digital communications to teens, encouraging them into training, and better communicating the financial rewards of a career in construction.
Elsewhere, the report puts forward a string of recommendations on reforming the planning system, in a way that removes barriers and cuts project delivery times without creating a race to the bottom on housing quality, social sustainability and the environment. It floats the idea of co-housing developments, whereby citizens develop, design and manage developments to best suit local needs.
Commenting on the report, IEMA’s head of policy Ben Goodwin said: “The need for simple, affordable and sustainable housing policy is obvious. Quite simply, as demand grows, action needs to be taken to ensure that there is enough housing to satisfy this, so that everyone has good access to somewhere to live.
“But in delivering greater supply it is integral that the planning system, including forthcoming reforms, include effective provision for assessing the environmental impact of housing development in order that the value of nature is properly considered.
The Committee’s report also identifies construction skills shortages as a key blocker for getting more houses built. As these skills shortages are addressed it will be important to consider how job roles within the sector can become more ‘green’, so that house building plays its role in the wider economy’s transition to a more sustainable footing.”
Shortly after the publication of the Net-Zero Strategy last autumn, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warned that it only detailed the creation of a further 440,000 green jobs by 2030, while the Government’s target is two million. The EAC also argued that, without an official definition of what makes a role “green”, Ministers cannot credibly claim to be developing robust job creation plans.