The Scottish Government could struggle to meet its target to build 50,000 homes by 2021 due to a lack of workers, industry bosses have suggested.
At the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee was told the impact of Brexit, as well as large projects in England, had reduced the number of people available to work on projects.
Concerns were raised by a panel of construction sector leaders that the reduction, combined with too few young people entering the industry, could lead to an insufficient number of Scottish workers being available to build new housing.
Unite the union’s Steven Dillon suggested that following the completion of large projects in Scotland such as the Queensferry Crossing and the Aberdeen bypass, workers have been making the move to England in search of work.
Mr Dillon said: “One of the biggest problems we’re going to have with building houses is the labour market.
“There’s a lot of major problems starting in England, such as HS2 and Hinkley Point, and it’s going to drain the Scottish economy of crafts people.
“That’s one of the major concerns this committee should have. We’re going to have a skills shortage when the contract on HS2 takes off.
“The amount of Scottish workers that have moved down to Hinkley Point … you need to look at that if you’re talking about building these houses.
“It may be a case of boosting apprentice numbers, for example, so that we can build these houses.
“The workers are critical no matter what you do because it’s not going to be built using a computer.”
Hew Edgar, interim head of UK policy for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, indicated the availability of large projects could help to attract and retain workers.
“The Queensferry Crossing was a great piece of work,” said Mr Edgar.
“It was what we would consider a mega-project. The problem in Scotland now is that we don’t have a mega-project to look forward to.
“So the talent and the labour force that was attracted to Scotland to work on this project have now left to seek employment.
“It would be prudent of the Scottish Government to ensure that there’s a pipeline of mega-projects or large-scale projects that would entice talent to come to Scotland and work and also to remain”.
Ian Rogers, Scottish Decorators Federation chief executive, said the UK’s departure from the EU would also cause problems for the sector with fewer workers from Europe being available.
He also suggested the construction industry would be forced to compete with other sectors, including retail and the hotel trade, in attracting new apprentices.
“We’re now looking at Brexit as a no-deal possibly,” Mr Rogers said.
“That is going to stop the inflow of labour because it won’t meet the government’s minimum wage criteria in some areas.”
“We’ll then be fishing in a pond that everybody’s fishing in for apprentices.”
Simon Rawlinson, of Arcadis, representing the Construction Leadership Council, said: “I think it’s important that the committee recognises that the supply chain and the labour force involved in the delivery of housing is almost completely different to the supply chain that is involved in the delivery of large civil engineering projects.”
Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, said: “The Scottish Government is on track to deliver our ambitious 50,000 affordable homes target over this Parliament, which will include 35,000 homes for social rent. This effort is backed by more than £3 billion – the single biggest investment in affordable housing since devolution.
“International studies show that boosting our infrastructure investment is expected to have a positive impact on Scotland’s long-term economic growth and there is a strong correlation between Scottish Government investment and overall construction activity.
“Our National Infrastructure Mission commitment will increase annual investment by 1% of current GDP by the end of the next Parliament into our hospitals, schools, houses, transport, low carbon technology and digital connections – that’s £1.56 billion higher by 2025-26 than 2019-20.
“That commitment will provide economic stimulus, boost international competitiveness and prepare for Brexit, and bring a level of investment in our vital economic and social infrastructure that will protect and create jobs in the short term, while supporting long-term growth and productivity.”