While the government talks about tackling the housing being one of its top priorities – along with of course, Brexit – we are now on our eighth housing minister since 2010 and 17th since 1997.
Yet while the never-ending cycle of housing ministers may feel like no progress is being made, there has been movement on some level.
A key obstacle to getting Britain building the number of homes we need is the way we deliver them. While other industries have seen huge disruption and innovation over the past few decades, house-building techniques have barely changed over the past century. As a result, construction remains hugely inefficient, requiring a lot of resource and manpower. The last point, in particular, is a problem given how many older workers are leaving the industry, few young British people want a job in construction and any Brexit deal is likely to see the flow of migrant labour from Europe restricted.
Yet in its £420m construction sector deal, the government demonstrated it recognised changing delivery models is crucial if we are to ever meet the ambitious house-building targets set.
Drawing from both public and private investment, the deal aims to push for much needed modernisation of the sector by investing in innovative technologies – “bytes and mortar” as the government put it.
This is not to say the deal will be the be-all-and-end-all to the construction and property industry’s woes. Innovation can open the door to healthier profit margins for contractors. However, it is unlikely to induce real changes to traditional procurement and supply chain fragmentation that plague the current delivery model. Contractors will still pass on risk to sub-contractors in a downward spiral that can impact quality and time outcomes on projects. Investment alone cannot solve this – it is collaboration among players in the industry that is able to make a difference to these adversarial contractual models.
Improving both the quality and quantity of British homes is something that can be universally embraced, while the capacity for sharing and exporting new construction technology and knowledge to other countries and sectors could prove an invaluable tool in the United Kingdom’s belt.