Published On: Mon, Mar 23rd, 2015

Construction and manufacturing badly overlooked in this year’s Budget, warns the BWF

Iain McIlwee. Credit BWFThe British Woodworking Federation (BWF) has expressed its frustration with the Chancellor following the recent Budget announcement. Iain McIlwee, chief executive of the BWF, said: “This was a Budget more about hunting votes from middle England and pensioners than backing business and growth.  If the Chancellor wanted to secure the votes from the 100,000 people working in the £3.8 billion wood products manufacturing sector in the UK, he needed to show better recognition that construction and manufacturing will be the key drivers for future growth.

“The promise of 20 new housing zones and a Help-to-Buy ISA might help the housing market a bit, but policy is focussed too much on demand side factors than really getting to grips with the serious problems of undersupply – fundamentally we need to build more houses.  Where was the support for the smaller builder? Where was the incentive for councils to invest more intensely in building in their regions?

“For manufacturers, margins remain thin, payment practices are poor and we face intense competition from imports fuelled by the weak Euro.  Our members will welcome the reduction in corporation tax, but tax remains complex and comes in many guises – for example, pushing up the minimum wage for apprentices above the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission doesn’t walk hand-in-hand with driving growth in apprentice numbers.”

Pointing out the specific impact of apprentice reform on the joinery manufacturing and woodworking industry, Iain McIlwee explained why his members would be so concerned: “Today the Chancellor spoke of a doubling in the number of apprenticeships, but we need to be careful that we are comparing like with like. The average apprenticeship outside our sector is just 10 months; this is surely not equivalent to the three year intense woodworking and joinery apprenticeships that deliver a real trade and huge opportunity to young people.”

On the promised review of Business Rates, Iain McIlwee said: “This is positive and we have been calling for this, but it must be about more than reducing rates for retail.  While empty shops are a major issue and not the best advert for a healthy community, the true engines of growth will be manufacturing and construction. It is these businesses which, if supported, will grow, employ and deliver cash to the high street.

He added: “It is frankly galling to see oil and gas sectors getting new incentives when those industries like timber and wood products that help to mitigate the use of carbon, and reduce pressure on the grid through low carbon materials and low energy process, have been overlooked.”