BSA: ‘Turbo-charge housebuilding with public cash to beat housing crisis’

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Building society chiefs have called for increased public investment in housebuilding to help solve Britain’s housing crisis.

Experts argue the nation needs 200,000 new homes a year to cope with population growth and smaller family units, but construction levels are falling well short.

Last year, the private sector managed to build just 93,000 new homes.

Commentators say the big five housebuilders only have the capacity to meet 30 per cent of the estimated demand.

Speaking at the Building Societies Association annual conference, chairman David Cutter told The Yorkshire Post: “It requires housing associations and, in particular, local authorities to massively support the housebuilding market.

“That requires cross-party consensus and support for local authorities to turbo-charge the building in the public sector.

“The question is, can that be done at the same time as an austerity programme?”

Mr Cutter, who is the chief executive of Skipton Building Society Group, said the move would help the construction industry and underpin the housing market.

Robin Fieth, CEO of the BSA, told delegates that the new Government should set up a 15-year plan based on national and regional demographic changes, employment, environmental concerns, infrastructure and house price inflation.

He said: “If we are going to get the housing supply equation more balanced than it is at the moment - and the private sector has not historically demonstrated a capacity to do that - there seems a real need for proper public investment and whether that is delivered through local authorities or housing associations or some other means I think we need to do that.”

The conference in Harrogate attracted leading lights from Britain’s 44 building societies and the two largest credit unions.

Yorkshire is a heartland for the movement with the Yorkshire, Skipton, Leeds, Beverley and Ecology building societies responsible for 14,000 jobs.

They have 4.5m members, total assets of £66bn and last year paid nearly £100m in tax on combined profits of £433m.

Mr Fieth said mutuals enjoy much better customer satisfaction ratings than other parts of the financial services industry and accused the big banks of trying to mimic the customer-focused strategies of building societies.

He said: “If you didn’t know any better, judging by their advertising campaigns, you might think that they too were trying to become mutuals.

“But here’s the defining difference. Try to look like a mutual, having a customer-focused strategy, is a mile away from being a mutual and having the customer as your owner.”

But Mr Feith warned that the “tsunami of regulation” brought in following the financial crisis threatened diversity in Britain’s financial services sector.

He said: “A recurring theme of the post-crisis environment has been the burgeoning international and UK regulation on the ability of BSA members large and small to focus sufficient time on developing their business.”

Mr Feith cited new research from Cass Business School which shows that building societies are more stable and less risky than banks but are as efficiently run as their shareholder-owned counterparts.

He said: “My vision for the UK’s financial services sector... is not about an increasing focus on a shareholder-owned model.

“It is about a vibrant sector characterised by a broad range of business models and business types, side by side, equally vald, equally rigorous - just different.

“Financial mutuals, including building societies and credit unions, must have as vital a role in our future as they have done in our past.”

The sector ended the year with assets of more than £330bn, 39,000 employees and profits of £1.5bn.

It paid more than £300m in tax.

Forget the March of the Makers...

The economy is continuing to recover and should grow by around 2.5 per cent this year, according to a senior economist at Lloyds Bank.

Trevor Williams said the recovery has been steady since 2012 and is being driven by the services sector, which has grown by 9 per cent since 2008.

He said construction, production and manufacturing have all shrunk since the financial crisis.

“A march of the makers is not what’s going on,” added Mr Williams, in a reference to Chancellor George Osborne’s famous Budget speech.

He said that Britain’s public sector debt is on course to hit £1.8 trillion.