I was at a fantastic concert in Garter Lane in Waterford by Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy fame, who sang a song “The Complete Banker” about bankers and the recession, the general gist of which was it was all their fault.(see link at the end) I was sitting with a friend who worked in a bank and surrounded by a few other people who worked in banks and I thanked my lucky stars that Smurfit’s saved me from my first job with TSB. When someone as clever as Neil Hannon starts to satirise you, you’d prefer if he said your arse was the size of a small country.
So what is wrong with the building industry and how do we fix it.
The first issue is a lot of the developers have left the industry. Yes these are risk takers but primarily they are entrepreneurs with Know-How. Ok there were a few muppets and as things went mad in the mid naughties a lot of inexperienced people started developing. Most of those that survived the last 10 years have little desire to get back to developing.
The young trades men emigrated and many of the older ones retrained and just wouldn’t go back to a boom bust cycle. It’s difficult to source a plumber or carpenter which may be good news for the few remaining tradesmen but there needs to be an incentive for young people to start a trade.
No one wants to go back to the madness of banks fighting to fund projects but there is a serious lack of finance available particularly for infrastructure.
The legacy of the bust is the building industry is seen as untrustworthy. The government won’t take the risk of being perceived as supporting an industry that “crashed” the country. They won’t engage fully with the CIF for fear of being classed as part of the old boys network. An example of this is the lack of reduction in VAT requested by the CIF from 13.5% to 9%.
Parents of leaving certs kids will actively steer their kids away from professions and trades associated with the industry. “I don’t want my Jonny becoming a plumber or an architect because there’s no future there, and Jaysus, never a banker!”
Make apprenticeships more attractive to young people by government funding of doubling the income they earn. They might limit this to the first 500 apprenticeships. One trial that the CIF did was a shared apprenticeship scheme between companies which allowed apprentices wider exposure and continuous employment. If one employer had no work the apprentice moved on the next employer in the shared scheme. Another suggestion from Robert Butler of the CIF is to adopt the German model of apprenticeships. German apprenticeships cover a much wider variety of trades and professions including accounting. Trades get to do a lot more, becoming craftsmen in their areas.Almost 40% of first year college goers drop out. Maybe this is due to the need to start and get a degree first before doing what you want to do. The German model may be a way to improve this.
Banks won’t lend unless there are a number of pre sales. If the government guaranteed the first 1m of a suitable development to cover infrastructure and the first show houses this would unlock development and get things moving.The building industry needs to be stimulated otherwise we won’t fix the housing crisis. We need to get over our perception of the industry and government needs to be brave and take the first step.
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Neil Hannon The Complete Banker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wt6M6ggQbZQ