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Trade bodies call for infrastructure boost

A four-point plan to improve the UK’s built environment has been proposed by engineering services bodies BESA and ECA, ahead of next month’s Budget.

The proposals for the Treasury to consider include investment in infrastructure projects, greater funding for SME apprenticeships and reforms to ensure public sector fair payment.

ECA chief executive Steve Bratt and BESA chief executive David Frise, commented: “If the new Government is to deliver a range of key infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail, major housing developments and renewable power generation, then it needs to promote a competitive market and ensure the correct incentives are in place.

“At present, issues such as unfair payment practices, and a lack of funding in SME apprenticeships, are preventing smaller businesses from taking on more staff, seeking more work opportunities, and ultimately playing a role in supporting the Government’s ambitious infrastructure agenda.

“ECA and BESA urge the Chancellor to provide SMEs with a package of reforms, including investment in infrastructure, changes to apprenticeship funding, and an overhaul of payment practices, in the upcoming Budget.”

BESA and ECA’s four-point plan is as follows:

  • Invest in infrastructure - Provide certainty to industry by committing to investment in key long-term construction projects, and substantially investing in general infrastructure, including the railways, renewable energy such as onshore wind, and building 300,000 new homes every year.
  • Cut VAT on home improvement works: Reducing VAT from 20 per cent to five per cent on home improvement works would unleash investment in housing, stimulate the economy and contribute to the UK’s transition to net zero carbon.
  • Support SME employment - Help the engineering industry find and access the skilled people it desperately needs, by increasing SME engineering apprenticeship funding, and ensuring any proposed ‘Australian points-based system’ recognises the UK’s skills shortages.
  • Ensure fair payment: Strengthen the Government’s stance on requiring public sector suppliers to pay 95 per cent of invoices within 60 days. Alongside this, ensure the Small Business Commissioner has oversight of construction, and the powers to investigate, act and fine where appropriate.

“Engineering services plays a fundamental role in enhancing the UK’s built environment - the engine of progress and growth across the economy. Businesses stand ready to support Government to reach its ambitious climate targets and deliver key infrastructure, but investment and reform are required to make this a reality”, concluded Mr Bratt and Mr Frise.

12 February 2020

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