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Economic Forecasting Unit: Christmas Review

Every year the office holds a competition to see who will have to write the annual review article. This year I lost, so here it is.
The budget is due to be published this week and you will be reading this article in its aftermath. Leaks at the time of writing indicate that money will be available for housing, figures of £5 to £10 billion of aid have been suggested. In addition Housing Association balance sheets have been transformed through the magic of accountancy and the government moving a goal post slightly. This in effect will allow Housing Associations to fund possibly another £10 to 20 billion for affordable housing. In addition Councils will be allowed to initiate plans to develop housing either on their own or in conjunction with established builders. Finally, the Prime Minister has personally taken it upon herself to lead the charge in driving this matter forward.
All of the above points are very admirable and from our perspective lets hope these initiatives work. The concerns that are widely reported do need to be addressed, a brief overview follows.
The first is that there is already a  skills shortage in many parts of the construction industry (except of course for 'Green deal' officials.) If a traditional apprenticeship was to be the method of training large numbers of people then even if we start tomorrow it is several years before these individuals can work on their own recognisance, assuming enough tutors are available to handle the surge in training. Also, the European workers that are currently filling the skills shortage could well be considering returning to mainland Europe after March 2019, which could prove to be a setback to the anticipated building surge. Planning restrictions, public reviews and inflation are some of the further factors that will also have an effect on this project.
The big eight builders control the majority of present building sites in the UK. Further, their land banks stretch a minimum of five years into the future. A good deal of thought is going to have to go into seeing how to either liberate these tightly controlled assets or large amounts of additional land will need to be released for building. The point at which land gains planning permission for residential development is at present the golden part of the cycle and due to the sums involved will need careful monitoring.   
A further point worth considering is that a housing boom needs to be near the area people work and also flexibility or rather ease of mobility must also be taken into consideration. If first time buyers housing initiatives are restrictive or only worthwhile after a number of years, this could greatly affect a persons ability to be mobile. 
Finally, there is a concern that the government needs to prepare for the next recession. The traditional method of easing out of recession is to lower interest rates. So standard logic dictates that current interest rates must increase over the next 15 months to a level that would allow scope for step reductions to ease the effects of a recession or slow down due to Brexit or other as yet unforeseen economic downturn.  
I dearly hope the initiatives succeed but as with most things that are championed by successive governments the result is usually somewhat less than the headline.
Richard Tate






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