Paul Groves asks whether a strong, stable, clear and decisive government is too much to ask?

The General Election result in December created something the UK has almost forgotten about given the political climate of the last three or four years – a Government with a healthy working majority.

The poll was dubbed the Brexit Election by many, but that ignores the bigger picture.

The largely ineffective administrations presided over by Theresa May and Boris Johnson, prior to December’s election, have left a very significant and negative legacy that Mr Johnson’s new Government must tackle with the same urgency that the Prime Minister maintains will proceed Brexit on January 31.

While leaving the EU undoubtedly dominated the political scene since the referendum, particularly in the headlines and reporting of the mainstream media, the Government faces a seemingly ever-growing list of issues and challenges that it would be unwise to ignore for too long.

Without doubt Brexit will still dominate matters in the coming weeks and months – maybe even years – which is why our industry is now looking at the opportunities that will exist post-January 31 and also the list of priorities it has for the Government to address.

So, plenty of reasons for the PM to be cheerful

Paul Groves Paul Groves Editor of Specification magazine

Bright spots ahead

There is an air of optimism. In the wake of the decisive Conservative majority, industry analysts Glenigan updated its forecast for 2020 and beyond. The updated Glenigan Construction under the Conservatives 2020-2021 Construction Industry Forecast is heralding a 2% rise in the value of underlying project starts in 2020 and a further 5% in 2021.

Private and affordable housing, education, health and civil engineering work are the main bright spots.

The outlook for new construction of warehousing/logistics and London office space remains promising too, and the hotel and leisure sector is set to stay on a growth path.

Meanwhile, starts in the community and amenity sector are set to pick up next year, helped by a healthy pipeline of Ministry of Defence work.

Post-Brexit nerves may create a dip in industrial, commercial and retail construction activity next year however, before stabilising in 2021.

An increase in school building projects is forecast to drive sector activity as local authorities tackle a shortage of secondary school places as the number of secondary school age children in England is projected to rise by 13.6% over the five years to 2022. A fall in universities capital spending is expected to temper the overall growth in education sector work.

The outlook for the health sector is brightening with increases in NHS capital funding promised by the new government, which is expected to lift project starts over the next two years. The scarcity of projects currently in the development pipeline is expected to limit initial sector growth to just 3% next year. Starts are subsequently forecast to gather momentum during 2021, rising by 8%, as NHS trusts develop and implement their investment programmes.

The government has pledged to significantly increase investment in the UK’s infrastructure. In many areas such as energy and broadband, such investment will be delivered by the private sector. Where additional public sector funding is potentially available in areas such as roads, it will take time before additional projects are ‘shovel ready’. Accordingly, we anticipate that initially the additional funding increases will be directed at areas such as tackling the maintenance backlog on the nation’s roads.

Qualifications

In response to the recent EU Withdrawal Bill, RIBA President, Alan Jones, said: “The Conservative manifesto rightly identified the UK’s architecture sector as world-leading.

“The UK government is aiming to complete its negotiation with the EU by the end of 2020, the outcome of which will shape the success of the profession at home and abroad.

Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) agreements with the EU and internationally are critical to ensure that the sector continues to attract international architects and trade successfully.

“The government must also ensure that the immigration system supports and does not hinder the UK’s status as a global hub for architecture.”

Skills shortage

This is a theme taking up by the Federation of Master Builders, with the organisation particularly concerned about the skilled workforce of the future post-Brexit.

Brian Berry, the FMB’s chief executive, said: “A skilled construction workforce will be critical to delivering on the Government’s plans for infrastructure and housing set out in today’s Queen’s Speech. Over half of small builders are struggling to recruit a bricklayer or carpenter, yet it could prove very difficult to fill these roles from outside the UK under the proposed points-based immigration system.

“The Government must work with industry to ensure that the new immigration system works for construction, and that the National Skills Fund trains our domestic workforce in the trades that are needed or else the sector will struggle to deliver.”

Housing shortage

Meanwhile, Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, pointed out that housing was a top issue for voters in December’s election, with 1 in 7 people directly hit by the housing crisis last year.

She welcomed the government’s commitment to renewing the Affordable Homes Programme and added: “Funding certainty for homes for social rent will be crucial for enabling housing associations to continue building the homes the country needs. 

“It is also good to see building safety make the new government’s agenda. This complex and extensive programme of work will greatly benefit from renewed strategic leadership from government.

“We look forward to working with the government on the Social Housing White Paper, to build on the work that housing associations have already started, and protect the rights of social housing residents.”

Manufacturing

From the manufacturers’ perspective, the election win and subsequent Queen’s Speech gave plenty of cause for optimism, something that has been consistently lacking over the last few years.

Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive at Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said the number of measures outlined by the new Government that are designed to support business growth, ensure the UK is at the forefront of tackling climate change and, in particular, improve the UK’s productivity performance, represented a refreshing change.

“In particular, industry will welcome plans to boost R&D, infrastructure investment and skills which is a critical factor for manufacturers right across the UK,” he added. “Plans for a new points-based immigration must support the skills agenda, however, by ensuring that companies are able to have access to the brightest and best from around the globe.

“Manufacturers will also welcome plans for a review of business rates which currently act as a disincentive to invest in capital equipment. In contrast to previous reviews however, industry will hope this one provides a radical reform to make a step change difference to business investment.

Reasons to be cheerful?

“It’s clear from the range of measures proposed that the new Government has a bold programme at home and towards re-shaping the role of the UK overseas. Industry stands ready to work in partnership to ensure that the vision to improve the growth prospects of every region of the UK is met.”

So plenty of reasons for the PM to be cheerful as he surveys the reaction to his party’s election win and the outline of proposals in the Queen’s Speech.

But also, plenty of items added to the list immediately below “Get Brexit Done” at number one.

Paul Groves is editor of Specification magazine