Construction Industry (Employment)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:22 pm on 24th May 2000.

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Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 5:22 pm, 24th May 2000

I congratulate Johann Lamont on bringing this important matter before the Parliament. The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee happened upon the issue while considering the housing stock transfer. We received a lot of evidence telling us that there was a skills shortage problem and, at the same time, an economic opportunity that has to be grasped.

Like others, I have no expertise in this area, although I once worked on a distillery warehouse construction site when I was a student—I do not know whether that counts as relevant experience. The issue of planning is important. The stock transfer alone has the potential to create something like 3,000 additional jobs in construction. Assuming that a large portion of that number will be skilled tradespeople not labourers, it will take three or four years to train them. It will be a while before the stock transfer gets off the ground, but we can clearly see that there is a time lag problem.

It is important that we get together the various interest groups, such as the council, the Scottish Executive and the colleges. Johann Lamont did not mention the colleges much, but I will mention that South Lanarkshire College has a specialism in construction and has had to lay off staff in the past year as a result of a lack of demand for their services. That is a ludicrous situation and we must deal with it.

We have to get a programme in place, monitor it and identify recruits from the areas in need. As work will be done on the houses in those areas, it seems reasonable that local people should benefit most. The construction industry is noted for the ebbs and flows of its business—at times there is an excess of work; at other times people are laid off. We have to create a situation in which the flow of work is steadier. When the big boost caused by the stock transfer ebbs away, there should be something to replace it.

My final point concerns the issue of safety. As all members are aware, the construction industry employs a significant number of non-employees, by which I mean technically self-employed people who are not protected to the same extent by employment legislation and, for example, do not get paid if there is no work for them. We must encourage ways of maintaining employment conditions—the unionisation of the work force is important in that respect. As for the industry's safety record, members have rightly touched not just on the number of fatalities but on the number of injuries. Although, in my former life, I progressed accident claims of that kind, I would be delighted if better safety standards in these industries resulted in a much safer environment for people to work in.

We have to get this major economic opportunity for Glasgow right; it will happen only once in this generation and we will have only ourselves to blame if we miss it. Let us put all hands on deck and make it work.