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War Economy

Pre-war Activities

page 220

Pre-war Activities

ALREADY under pressure when war broke out, the building and construction industry was to be very heavily loaded for most of the war years.

Public works had been, not unnaturally, one of the first activities to feel the upthrust of the Labour Government's policy of providing adequate employment opportunities. Development expenditure through the Public Works Department, which, since 1931–32, had been well under £3 million in each year, had increased to £4 million in 1936–37, to £7 million in 1937–38, and to £10·5 million in 1938–39.

At the same time, the Government's state housing scheme was gathering momentum. The first contracts for state houses had been let in March 1937 and, in 1937–38, nearly four hundred houses were completed. Completions rose to 2700 in 1938–39, and to 3400 in 1939–40. Partly through this additional state housing, and partly under the influence of improving economic conditions generally, the number of permits for all new dwellings increased from 4200 in 1936–37 to 7000 in 1937–38, and to 9700 in 1938–39.

With all this extra work to be done, skilled labour for the building and construction industry was becoming short, in spite of the fact that, for the economy as a whole, there was still a pool of some 20,000 men unemployed or in subsidised employment.1 Early in 1939, a number of skilled construction workers was recruited in Australia, but they were not sufficient to alleviate the shortage of skilled men.

page 221

1 See also Table 1 in Appendix I.