Scotland politics

Building chief Michael Levack blames red tape for construction hold-ups

The head of a professional body has told a committee of MSPs that he was unhappy with the "lack of progress" on big building projects.

Michael Levack, who is chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation, told Holyrood's finance committee that bureaucracy was getting in the way.

He added that ministerial claims that the draft budget was for growth was "out of touch with reality".

However, the Scottish government said the procurement system had improved.

A spokesman added: "To further improve the system, we are currently consulting on a procurement reform bill to ensure that major public contracts deliver training and employment opportunities, and will conduct a thorough review of construction procurement across the public sector."

Mr Levack told the committee that bureaucracy was causing many projects to "get stuck in the constipated public sector procurement system".

He called on all councils and public sector bodies to make sure capital projects on the "wish list" were coming to the market, which he claimed was currently "not the case".

The businessman said: "Many construction businesses are in survival mode, we've got to get that message through. Political rhetoric from any political party suggesting otherwise hurts those who have lost their jobs."

The building federation claimed further job losses in the construction industry would risk creating major problems in the future for the delivery of large-scale infrastructure projects.

Mr Levack criticised the progress of the Scottish Futures Trust, the Scottish government body tasked with the funding of the infrastructure plan, branding its performance "very, very slow".

He added that those in the construction industry were not approaching this spending round with the "begging bowl out", but they were merely wanting work.

The budget, announced by Finance Secretary John Swinney last week, contained a stimulus package for the construction sector worth £40m this autumn and in the next financial year.

In a written submission ahead of the meeting, Gary Clark of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said business costs were continuing to rise and he did not believe the package of rates relief announced by the SNP government would help.

He said he wanted to see Mr Swinney neutralise the rates increase planned for next year.

Mr Clark added: "We do not believe the rising burden of business rates upon Scottish business is conducive to business growth, nor is it helpful at a time when cashflow remains a challenge to many businesses."

The Scottish Property Federation had also expressed its concern over what it described as adding "significant risk" to commercial property development.

Back on track

The federation's David Melhuish criticised the new tax being introduced on empty properties.

Mr Swinney had said that training a workforce for the future was important to his government's plans to get the economy back on track.

The measures the minister unveiled in his draft budget included;

  • £40m of additional spending on affordable housing, starting this year
  • £80m on new schools to support the construction sector
  • £30m to be spent over three years on a Green Investment Package of energy efficiency measures
  • £17m will go towards college education and student support.

Mr Swinney said: "In these difficult economic times this government is doing everything within its limited power to stimulate Scotland's economy, to invest in our young people, protect households and support front line services."

A Scottish government spokesman pointed out that while the committee was sitting, Education Secretary Mike Russell was announcing plans for 30 new or refurbished schools by March 2018.

He added: "This has been achieved because of the Scottish Futures Trust's vigorous commitment to value for money and is fantastic news for Scotland's construction sector.

"And we absolutely agree there needs to be more projects under way in Scotland. That is why we have done all we can to boost investment, despite a 33% cut in our capital budget."

MSPs have been taking evidence from a variety of organisations in a budget process that would not be finalised until the new year.

Mr Swinney will also appear in front of the finance committee over the coming weeks.

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