What steps the Government are taking to tackle cash retention within the construction sector.
We are working with the industry through the Construction Leadership Council and its supply chain payment charter, which includes a commitment to zero retentions by 2025.
I am sure the Minister will agree that cash retention is having a major difficulty on the cash flow of SMEs across the United Kingdom. Surely some form of sanctions needs to be in place to alleviate cash-flow problems when companies are going out of business.
I certainly agree that there are some problems with the system, but it is also a fairly deeply embedded feature of the construction industry. We must act on the basis of evidence, which is why the Government will commission an analysis of the cost and benefit of retention payments to inform future action. We endorse entirely the Construction Leadership Council’s commitment to remove such payments from the industry by 2025.
With last week’s construction output figures going backwards, and with so many small construction firms facing cash-flow difficulties, is it any wonder that the house building programme in this country has been so lamentable? Do we need to do more to help SME construction firms, for example with a help-to-build underwrite of some sort behind that loan finance for small building companies? We should not just avoid adding to borrowing; we should make a real difference for those construction firms, particularly small ones.
We certainly want to support a range of construction firms, both small and large, but it would have been nice if the hon. Gentleman had taken advantage of his Back-Bench position to reflect a little more openly and honestly on the legacy of the last Labour Government, which saw the construction industry crushed.
Housing starts are up by 50% from the low that was achieved at the end of the last Labour Government. There is a lot further to go, and we will work closely with construction firms to make that progress, but let us be honest about where the industry started.
Will the Minister and his colleagues hold a range of discussions with their colleagues in the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to discuss the need to reinstate the aggregate levy scheme, and particularly the exemptions, as that would assist the construction sector and the cash-flow situation for industries in Northern Ireland?
I would be happy to invite the hon. Lady to meet me to discuss that in detail.