SMALL house builders in the UK predict that skills shortages in the construction industry will overtake access to finance as the biggest barrier to building new homes, new research suggests.

Overall, the percentage of SME house builders saying that a shortage of skilled workers is a major barrier to their ability to build more new homes rose to 44 per cent.

This is up from 42 per cent in 2017, according to the annual survey from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Brian Berry, FMB chief executive, pointed out that the construction sector is heavily reliant on European Union workers, with just under one in 10 workers in the sector born in the EU so Brexit, coupled with the end of free movement, threatens to further intensify the already-existing skills shortages.

He added: “Given that the UK will leave the EU in less than six months, house builders are understandably concerned that skills shortages could worsen and choke housing delivery.

“It is critical therefore that the Government doesn’t pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system.”

When asked to look ahead over the next three years, more firms cited skills shortages as a likely barrier to growth than access to finance.

Nearly half of small house builders, some 46 per cent, say access to finance is a major barrier to their ability to build more new homes while 51 per cent regard the planning system as a major constraint on their ability to grow.