Callum Chomczuk: Should the housing sector worry about the UK Single Market?
CIH Scotland national director Callum Chomczuk on the potential impact of the Single Market legislation on the housing sector.
Earlier this month saw the UK government close their consultation on their Internal Market Bill. A piece of legislation most of the housing sector may understandably think was focused on homogeny of food, drink and pharmaceuticals for international trade deals. But could the proposed Bill affect how Scottish housing policy is determined in the future?
At the heart of the legislative proposals is ensuring market access across the UK based on the two principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination. But with little detail on what these principles actually mean.
Nonetheless let’s consider these principles in turn. Starting with mutual recognition. This means that if a business meets a regulatory threshold in one nation then it will be accepted in all other nations, without any further compliance. Whereas non-discrimination will mean that a national government cannot set higher standards for people, good or services from other UK nations that it does for its own.
What does this mean for our housing sector? Well the UK Government White Paper specifically cites the example of building regulations as a barrier to trade and as an argument for an internal market legislation. Suggesting that “Complexities in key sectors such as construction could arise, were differences in regulations to emerge over time….( if there was regulatory divergence it would be) more difficult for construction firms to design and plan projects effectively across the UK.”
Now construction firms are already well accustomed to differences in building regulation within the UK. For example, in Scotland we have our own Building Regulations, the Social Housing Quality Standards and Housing for Varying need design standards to inform the design and build of our new housing stock. Whereas in Wales they have Welsh Housing Quality Standard, Homes for Life, Development Quality Requirements and in England and Northern Ireland yet another set of standards developed to meet the policy goals of each nations governments.
This divergence is right and appropriate within the existing devolution settlement. But the specific inclusion of building regulations in the White Paper does suggest that construction companies could seek to build new homes while disregarding national standards and legislation, so long as it was complying in one of the four nations.
Beyond this specific example the White Paper raises questions about professional standards and suggests that divergent qualifications (it cites plumbers and technicians, but it could equally apply to other parts of the housing sector) could inhibit trade and need to be addressed in the Bill.
At their heart the overarching principles set out in the White Paper are in themselves positive. The housing sector wants to see increased economic opportunities, improved welfare and economic security for everyone in the UK. However, until we have greater clarity on the legislation this White Paper unfortunately only raises concerns about where the parameters of housing policy in Scotland will be set in the future.