Building bosses upbeat on future

The bosses of two major Borders building firms have sounded a note of optimism, despite dire warnings over the future of the Scottish construction industry, writes Andrew Keddie.

Michael Crawford of Melrose-based J. S. Crawford, and Andy Pearson of Tweed Homes in Peebles, were responding to pessimistic predictions from Michael Levack, chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation.

Mr Levack told TheSouthern that he questioned the accuracy of official figures which suggested Scottish construction employment grew by 14 per cent last year.

“Our members up and down the country have been telling me a different story of shrinking order books and finances under serious pressure,” said Mr Levack.

“In the shot term, building firms are faced with the prospect of plummeting public capital spending and a private sector struggling to recover.

“My fear is that indications of construction employment falling at the end of 2010 are a portent of further job losses to come in 2011.”

Mr Crawford, who attended Dundee University with Mr Levack, painted a different picture.

“The housing market is tough, but we are through the worst of it and the national employment news is mirrored at a local level,” said Mr Crawford.

“We have recently taken on two new operatives to ensure we can complete our houses on time. This good news coupled with the unexpected fall in inflation is a harbinger of a general gradual improvement in the economy. As Churchill once said: ‘This is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end’.”

Mr Crawford revealed he had recently completed five new-build houses, worth nearly £900,000, through a shared equity loan scheme funded to the tune of £90,000 by his company.

Mr Pearson admitted his firm had been forced to lay off some staff over the last three months after completing 29 new homes for the Eildon Housing Association.

“However, we have secured work on 51 affordable home in Galashiels and Innerleithen through the National Housing Trust funding scheme to provide mid-market rental housing. We aim to activate the site in Galashiels next month and Innerleithen next year.

“Tweed Homes also expects later this year to open a third site in Sprouston where we have planning consent for 21 homes, so we will be re-hiring staff shortly and we will have steady work through to 2013. Without setting the heather on fire, output will probably be as high as 60 per cent of pre-credit crunch levels.”

Meanwhile, Oregon Homes, the Selkirk-based house-frame manufacturer, expects “no dramatic movement” in its 78-strong workforce, despite reporting a pre-tax loss of £334,000 for 2010, compared with a profit of £21,000 in 2009.

This occured despite turnover increasing from £8.8million to £12.3million.

The firm attributed the downturn to “an unprecedented increase in timber prices” in the first half of last year which had resulted in “a severe erosion of margin”.