Construction Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Innovation, Universities and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 20th November 2008.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 10:30 am, 20th November 2008

When he next expects to meet representatives of the construction industry to discuss the industry's skills base.

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Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

On 11 November, I visited the construction site for Laing O'Rourke's new concrete factory in Steetley, in the constituency of my hon. Friend John Mann, where I had interesting discussions about skills. We are working closely with that company and the industry on supporting apprenticeships and on the longer-term skills challenges that the industry faces, which include the need to meet our ambitious house building targets.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I welcome the Minister to his post. Given that construction faces a major downturn, does he agree that this could be an opportunity for extra training and that it is important that firms keep apprentices on their books? What is happening to his apprentice task force? As Her Majesty's Government are a best practice client and have a huge role in procurement, what will he do to ensure that their tender documents stimulate training opportunities? Finally, will he visit the world-class National Construction college at Bircham in west Norfolk?

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Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious welcome. He asked a lot of questions, and I think that the answer to almost all of them is yes. He will forgive me if I do not necessarily remember them all, but, yes, I should love to visit the construction industry training body's national construction centre in his constituency; and, yes, on the ability of Governments to be counter-cyclical in a recession, he is absolutely right that we, as a Government, need to use our purchasing power, particularly in the downturn. That is exactly what we are doing in the Building Colleges for the Future programme, and in the Building Schools for the Future programme. Through their commissioning documents, apprenticeships and training places have been built in as an absolutely central part of both programmes.

More generally, on the question of construction in the downturn, we should remember that, although there is a lot of pressure on the house building sector, many parts of the commercial construction sector have resisted recession quite well so far, so we must be careful, as not all Opposition Members are at all times, not to talk down the sector and the economy.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The construction industry certainly has enjoyed a long boom period, but it is coming to an end. During that period, any skills shortages were often taken up and absorbed by workers from European Union accession countries. However, one chronic area of shortage, which was never bridged and will remain an area of shortage that my hon. Friend the Minister ought to discuss when he reviews the skills base, is project management, because our ability to deliver major projects to specification, on time and on budget has not been the most sparkling of our successes in this area.

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Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Although I take my hon. Friend's point, I counsel him, too, to be careful not to talk the sector down at a time when we should talk it up. From his considerable experience and wisdom, he makes a very interesting point, but, on the other hand, when I was in Bassetlaw last week, I encountered and talked about some outstanding pieces of project management. He is right, however, that construction means not only level 2 and level 3 skills, but management skills, level 4 skills and sophisticated skills. We need to be good at them, just as we need to be good at the nuts and bolts skills.

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