• More organisations are backing Get Britain Building.
• Following the English campaign event, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish launches are planned.
• The campaign has an early day motion.
• Companies are urged to back GBB at the grass roots.

At its westminster launch last week, the Get Britain Building campaign (GBB) received limited commitment from MPs that they would back its 10-point action plan to get the construction sector through the slump. But the campaign organisers are now stepping up the initiative, rolling it out at grass roots level and intensifying lobbying.

The campaign has been devised by the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF), British Precast, Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Modern Masonry Alliance (MMA). And now other organisations have come on board, including The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA).

The backdrop to the campaign is the likelihood that UK house starts this year will be at their lowest since 1924.

Chairing the launch, Denise Chevin, editor of Building magazine, further stressed the seriousness of the position. “This is the worst recession UK construction has seen since 1980 and it’s forecast to lose 300,000 jobs this year,” she said.

Crucial to economy

The building sector was crucial to the future of the UK economy, she added, accounting for over 2 million jobs and 8.2% of GDP.

The campaign’s launch video, which included comments from Howarth Timber London depots general manager Gary Ford highlighting the plight of the building supply chain,

provided further stark statistics. These included the estimate that eight building companies are now going bust a day.

GBB is urging the government to adopt its action plan to give construction a jump start. Its 10 reommendations include cutting VAT on repair, maintenance and improvement work (RMI) to 5%; freeing up more land for building; simplified planning rules; and fast-tracking of government capital spending projects.

The three main English political parties attended the launch, represented by Labour deputy chief whip John Spellar, Conservative shadow minister for small businesses Mark Prisk and Liberal Democrat shadow for small businesses and enterprise Lorely Burt. However, only Ms Burt made a solid pledge to one of the campaign action points, the cut in VAT on RMI work and materials.

Mr Spellar said he welcomed the campaign as a means of underlining how important construction is to the economy, but was constrained from making commitments on specific fiscal measures in the pre-budget period. He said the government was taking action to “unblock” capital investment programmes, notably the Building Schools for the Future initiative. It was also intent on freeing up credit to business and tackling certain banks’ apparent policy of writing off whole sectors as “too hot to handle”, rather than dealing with companies’ credit rating individually.

Mr Prisk also said he could not “sign up to all 10 points” of the campaign, but that the Tories were proposing policies that would help construction, notably a cut in corporation tax for small businesses to 20p, a six-month VAT deferral and the establishment of a £50bn loan guarantee scheme open to all businesses.

However, GBB co-ordinator Richard Hyslop at the FMB said the campaign was not surprised at the politicians’ initial response.

“The campaign is still at an early stage and all we presented were the bald 10 action points,” he said. “We are now backing these with detailed policy papers. One is already up at our website,, and two more follow this week.”

Scottish and Welsh launches

He added that GBB launches to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies were planned and that political lobbying was being stepped up, through direct contact with MPs and a petition on the GBB website which will be taken to No 10.

“We also have an early day motion on the RMI VAT cut that 100 MP’s have signed,” he said.

Grass roots activity includes encouraging more trade bodies and companies to back the campaign and distribution of literature, posters and vehicle stickers.

TTF chief executive John White said that as part of its involvement in the campaign he would be urging members to lobby their MPs to “let them know exactly how the recession is affecting their business”.

He added that the TTF backed the campaign as a means of “creating a noise and giving construction a unified voice”.

“We are also behind its aims to get more public investment in construction, particularly housing,” he said. “And it complements our own activities, notably our lobbying to free up credit insurance in construction.”

Also at the launch, UKTFA chairman Geoff Arnold said the government must ensure money earmarked for capital investment projects feeds through to building programmes. “We need to target and measure delivery,” he said.

The biggest round of applause followed an impassioned plea to the politicians from MMA director Mike Leonard. “We’re looking down the barrel at just 50,000 house starts this year, while government could ensure a further 75,000 social housing properties are built,” he said. “We need action now. The time for dancing around your handbags is over.”