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  • Lawrence Bailey

Building up unnecessary problems

It seems these days that Brexit is getting cited for everything bad in business. The latest is that uncertainty is proving to be “toxic” for the construction sector.

According to latest figures issued by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), construction output fell by 3.4% in January from December. It’s claimed that a slowdown in housebuilding in January contributed to the biggest monthly decline since June 2012.

This comes a week after Prime Minister Theresa May announced tougher planning rules to try to force house-builders to build more properties.

It’s a measure that’s good for grabbing headlines yet no-one is holding their breath; mostly because the government is looking in the wrong direction.

It isn’t a lack of effort in the construction industry that is holding back house-building but the soaring costs that mount up once planning consent is given. Many of these stem from public sector bureaucracy and infrastructure demands.

That’s to be expected. Very often local authorities have their enabling arm tied up in red tape behind their backs. Of course that doesn’t help the cashflow of a small firm forced to lay-off workers while waiting for a public servant to check the work of another public servant.

The situation needs flexibility on both sides, along with better mutual understanding.

Councils need to grasp the serious commercial realities at work while the private sector has to recognise complex accountabilities involving officials, political administrations and auditors trained to second-guess any decision in the name of value for money.

For some, the real villains are the so-called public utilities who tend to do their own thing in their own sweet time and usually at someone else’s expense – but that’s another debate.

As you may have read, a regional group of small house-builders and developers have formed a special interest group to press for better council co-ordination. They recently met with Swansea council leader Rob Stewart and I’m glad to say that things are moving forward.

If successful, Swansea could be able to put less pressure on new greenfield sites and actually build homes within existing communities where people want to live.

Wrong priorities for stores

It doesn’t take much to bring out the aggrieved consumer in me and the spectacle of bare shelves in the fresh fruit & veg section of my local supermarket was enough.

Just for context, we’re talking about last Saturday afternoon and one of the top five UK retailers.

A manager told me the empty aisles were due to “supply problems”. He wasn’t really able to talk as his time was occupied feverishly supervising a massive Mother’s Day display.

I consoled myself by calculating that if necessary I could eat five times my body weight in flowers and not put a dent in the arrangements. I asked if it had all been airlifted in although the sarky stuff was lost on him.

Jokes aside, what this suggests to me is that some retailers would rather cash in on lucrative seasonal sales than keep the staples well stocked. That's just plain bad management and bad business in my book.

It was a very different story at the discount store just up the road. As a result, the big guys will be seeing less of me. I suspect we’ll both be happier.

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