The newly-appointed head of Ayrshire-based builder McTaggart Construction has added her voice to those warning that recent government decisions are undermining the industry's ability to meet targets on the delivery of affordable housing across Scotland.

Janice Russell was named managing director of McTaggart Construction in February following a buy-out of the business in March 2021. The veteran chartered surveyor - who took part in the MBO that left the company majority-controlled by members of the founding family - was identified at that time as successor to the outgoing Gary Climson, who moved into the role of non-executive chairman.

Ms Russell said many of the issues facing companies like McTaggart - which specialises in building affordable homes for local authorities and housing associations - are similar to those in other parts of the construction industry.

“It’s probably the same as any other housebuilder or contractor is going to tell you at the moment: costs, labour availability, and supply of materials," she said. "But there are also a number of unintended consequences of government decisions that are impacting directly on the affordable housing sector.”

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One of these was the announcement from former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in September of a temporary rent freeze and eviction ban across the country, which was billed as a move to assist struggling tenants through the winter months of the cost-of-living crisis.

The decision caused uproar among landlords and letting agents who said it would stifle investment in the construction of new affordable homes which are in chronic short supply. The six-month freeze has now been replaced by a rent cap, but according to Ms Russell 12 per cent of development programmes across the sector have been pulled or paused for the next 12 to 18 months, effectively reducing delivery by about 4,000 units.

The other main issue has been the introduction of new planning guidance known as NPF4. Scottish ministers approved the policy reforms in January.

Ms Russell said NPF4 has been brought in without any arrangements for a smooth transition from previous planning guidance: “That is leading to significant delays in actually getting projects on to site, and getting projects through the approval process."

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She added: “The labour availability issue isn’t just in the trades and sub-contractors that we work with. It’s in local authorities as well.

"A lot of local authorities are losing staff through retirement or people moving on, and they don’t have the budgets to replace those individuals. So it’s a significant challenge right across the industry to get the approvals that are needed to get projects on to site.”

Born and raised in Lisburn in Northern Ireland, Ms Russell earned a diploma in land engineering from Newcastle Polytechnic - now Northumbria University - before completing her studies at the University of Ulster. She then returned to Newcastle where she worked for about 10 years, first with a firm of surveyors and latterly with a housing association.

She came to Scotland in 1998 after accepting a job in the Glasgow office of Cruden, where she worked in a business development role for seven years. She spent a further five years in a similar capacity with CCG before joining Dalry-headquartered McTaggart in August 2010.

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McTaggart Construction directly employs about 165 people, with a total workforce of approximately 500 including sub-contractors, delivering between 650 and 700 new homes annually. The company is on sites from the west of Scotland through to Musselburgh and down as far as Stranraer, and is about to start on a project in Dundee.

She said there are no plans to "significantly" change the business going forward: "We have a lot of repeat clients that like working with us. It’s more about looking what we can do to make us that bit better, and ensure that we can continue to deliver what our clients are looking for.”

This will likely lead to an expansion beyond building new homes.

"There are requirements for [clients'] existing stock to be brought up to certain standards, and that is something that we will be looking at going forward," Ms Russell said.

"It’s not something we’ve done recently – we have done it in the past, but we will be looking [again] at retrofit solutions. It’s a slightly different to what we do now, but we will continue to build new housing as well.”


Where do you find yourself most at ease?

On the West Sands at St Andrews with my husband and my dog.

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

I actually wouldn’t want to do anything else.

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

It's a phrase I heard just recently which reminded me why we do what we do: Home is everything. When we build houses every day, it’s easy for us to forget the effect a new home has on the people who move in.  It was a helpful reminder that what we do can create opportunity, establish communities and can be life-changing.

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

There are so many great books, but one I am currently reading is worth a mention – Winning by Jack Welch. It’s a very honest reflection of Jack’s career at General Electric focusing on his passion for people, teamwork and maximising profit within the business.

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

Covid lockdown was extremely challenging in terms of decision making both personally and for the business.

What do you now know that you wish you had known when starting out in your career?

You can achieve anything if you work hard. When you start out on your career path it is easy to focus on the here and now, but you should aim for your North Star – if you do you might get there quicker than you think!