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Skills shortages undermine Autumn Statement, warn consultants

Industry figures have warned that skills shortages pose a threat to the ambitious infrastructure plans unveiled by the government this week.

Chancellor George Osborne said in today’s Autumn Statement that the government was investing in infrastructure having outlined road and flood defence projects as well as measures to support energy production.

But consultants warned that the civils industry would be stretched to deliver all the work ahead of it.

Turner & Townsend UK managing director Jon White said: “The chancellor has fired the starting gun as the industry is already sprinting at close to top speed.

“The scale and length of the contraction forced Britain’s builders to cut ruthlessly and shed thousands of skilled people.

“With demand already outstripping capacity in infrastructure and housebuilding, the extra stimulus announced this week is to be welcomed – but it also offers a huge challenge.

“To continue the great strides it has made, the construction industry must do more to attract the brightest and best at all levels of the industry.”

PwC engineering and construction leader Chris Temple said the Autumn Statement showed the government had a strong intent to spend.  

But he added: “Continued rises in labour and material rates in the construction sector have the potential to be further exacerbated by these growth opportunities; this calls for further action to address these issues.”

EC Harris head of infrastructure Mat Riley said contractors may struggle to bring in the resources needed to fulfil future projects due to political uncertainty.

“If the Coalition is not in government after next year’s general election, then any future regime could cancel or change these plans, which scuppers one of the key purposes of the National Infrastructure Plan: to provide a secure pipeline of work for the construction industry,” he said.

“Investment decisions for future projects need to be made now but bank lending figures suggest this is not happening. Yet the government is criticising the industry for not recruiting and investing in new talent to meet demand. With this approach, the government has effectively created its own state of purdah for the construction industry as nobody believes, or is prepared to invest, on the back of these announcements.”

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