A BUILDING industry leader has urged the Government to introduce major reforms to stimulate the construction sector and get the economy growing.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, made the call after disappointing figures for UK growth from the National Office of Statistics.

Mr Berry said: “The Government will find it very difficult to get sustained growth in the economy while the construction industry remains depressed.

“Construction is essential to the well-being of the wider economy because of the variety and quantity of jobs it creates – from apprentice bricklayers to world leading architects.”

Said Mr Berry: “Every £1 spent on construction generates £2.84 in the wider economy, which makes it the best investment the Government can make to get Britain back on its feet.”

Mr Berry called on the Government to abandon its plans to introduce VAT on heritage building, cut VAT on property repairs, take action against banks that discriminate against construction firms and their clients, open up public sector procurement to small firms and introduce “meaningful incentives to drive private domestic retrofitting”.

He added: “It’s a sad fact that the building industry has been in recession for four years with little hope of any immediate recovery.

“Until we get builders building, again the economy is not going to recover.”

Steven Housden, sector skills manager for training body CITB-ConstructionSkills in Yorkshire, said latest official figures showing a 3% decline in construction and a 0.2% contraction of the UK economy during the first quarter of the year had come as no surprise.

He said: “Our Construction Skills Network forecast predicted that 2012 will be a difficult year for the industry with output in Yorkshire and Humber expected to fall by 6% and construction employment to fall by 6% as decreasing levels of demand and tough trading conditions mean the industry will need fewer skilled staff.

“The huge cuts to public spending across the UK – 24% in public non-housing and 25% in public sector housing with a further 10% cuts to both anticipated for 2013 – have left a hole too big for others to fill.

“Although there will be some growth in 2013 in Yorkshire and Humber, there is no forecasted growth in output over the next five years in the region.”

Mr Housden said: “Construction is fundamental to the health of the UK economy, contributing 8% to GDP, so its performance has a significant impact on overall growth.

“The Government’s recent investment in infrastructure is welcome, but that takes a long time to convert to jobs.

“We need greater investment in other areas of the industry – in refurbishment, homes, hospitals, schools.”

The most recent CSN forecast in January highlighted that by 2016, output and employment in the UK construction industry will still be more than 5% below their respective 2007/2008 peaks – signalling a ‘lost decade’ for the sector.