‘Hold COBRA meetings to address skills gap,’ councils tell government

Local authority leaders have called for urgent Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBRA) meetings to deal with an employment crisis in the construction industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a new report, the Local Government Association (LGA) said the capacity of the sector to deliver on council housebuilding programmes will be reduced. The report said that a culmination of sites being closed, redundancies being made, and businesses not surviving could lead to a skills gap that would impact on the number of houses delivered per year.

The report added: “We need a skills and jobs strategy in place now. Set up a COBRA for jobs and skills so government departments and agencies, local government, sector and trade bodies can coordinate and mobilise a response which ensures national skills and job investment lands well on the ground.”

Pooling apprenticeship levy funds was also suggested by the LGA, so that regions could strategically plan, address supply and demand issues, and encourage disadvantaged groups to join the industry.

It urged more government assistance for SME housebuilders and to help self-employed tradespeople find work on public sector sites. It added that council and combined authority jobs taskforces should coordinate local and national careers advice and business support as part of this.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) represents many of the local authorities across the UK tasked with negotiating extended hours with contractors. ADEPT president Nigel Riglar said: “ADEPT members up and down the country understand the importance of council housing for what it is: a critical place asset that will help secure the health and life chances of our people.

“We welcome the LGA report and its focus on the need for a sustained and cross-government approach to the jobs, skills and investment necessary to deliver much-needed new homes and stimulate a green recovery.”

The report also called for a housebuilding programme of 100,000 social homes per year to help drive a “post-pandemic boom”.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the delivery of affordable housing would be kept under close review, with further measures to be considered if necessary.

An MHCLG spokeswoman said: “Since 2010 we have delivered more than 464,500 new affordable homes, and we are investing £12bn to build affordable homes between 2021/22 and 2025/26 – the biggest cash investment in affordable housing for a decade.”

She did not address the suggestion the skills gap could be dealt with at COBRA meetings.

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