Brian Berry

An interview with Brian Berry: 'There needs to be a greater diversity of housebuilding'



In an interview with Development Finance Today, Brian Berry, chief executive at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), discusses VAT changes and underserved areas of the development industry.

Construction industry bosses are appointing more subcontractors in preparation of a downturn. What do firms need to look out for when appointing new subcontractors?

Anyone in the UK can start a construction company without having to demonstrate any basic level of competency or qualification. That is why anyone looking to appoint subcontractors should carefully consider who they appoint, and not make decisions on cost alone. If someone is looking for a builder, I would recommend using a member of the FMB. All new members of the FMB are independently inspected and vetted. We have a complaints process and are able to remove members if we find them to be in breach of our code of practice. Therefore, you know that by using an FMB member you have a guarantee that the company you are using has been vetted and if things go wrong, you have a safety net.

What needs to be done to increase the number of houses being built in the UK?

There needs to be a greater diversity of housebuilding. In 1988, 40% of new homes were built by SMEs, whereas now that is as little as 12%. While the major housebuilders are building more homes each year, it is not in their interest to exponentially increase supply. Therefore, it is critical to tap into other parts of the housebuilding sector, such as SME housebuilders. The greatest barriers facing SME housebuilders are finding small sites to build on, followed by the planning system and finally accessing the finance they need.

What areas of the property development market do you believe are underserved and why?

I think there is massive potential in retrofitting properties, but this has been neglected in government policy. While much of the focus of late has been on ensuring new build properties are low carbon, there are many homes in the UK that do not meet energy-efficiency standards and are a major contributor to carbon emissions as well as fuel poverty. We believe there should be a national retrofit strategy and the government should incentivise homeowners to upgrade their homes by slashing VAT on home improvement works to 5%.

How did you get into the industry?

I started out at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors as a parliamentary officer, then worked in its Brussels office for a while on European policy, before heading up its policy unit. I then moved to the FMB as director of external affairs and have been there ever since. 

If you didn’t work in the property industry, what would you be doing?

It would have to be something to do with people and trying to make a positive difference. A career in politics is always an attractive option, despite all the recent shenanigans! Failing that, I’ve got great admiration for teachers.


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