Betting on the general election? Think again

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

There are number of ways of predicting the outcome of the general election and an equal number of ways of being wildly incorrect. Bookmakers across the land are considering the 7th May to be a field day equal only to the Grand National in terms of punter cash finding its way through the betting shop door and not finding its way out again.

The one thing that seems sure is that the outcome is likely to be uncertain with both a three way coalition and a rerun of the election in the Autumn both being seen as possibilities.  So, where does that leave construction and building services?

Just as education and the health service are perennials in political manifestos so construction has some constant themes. Although construction rarely makes front page news there are a number of issues that seem likely to make the political headlines. Maybe for reasons of one-upmanship, as in who is promising to build the most houses? It’s the Liberal Democrats, since you ask; who are promising 300,000 new houses a year and an assurance that they’ll all be energy efficient. Or the startling alignment and collaboration between the three main political parties who are promising to work together on climate change, which in itself is surely not a bad thing?

But what of the perennials that effect construction?

Representation at senior levels seemed threatened at one point by questions being asked about the continuation of the role of Chief Construction Advisor, this is now resolved at least for the next two years. However other things are less easy to solve – the impending skills shortage, the delivery of low carbon retrofit and the lurking influence of increasing devolution will all play their part. As will continuing pressure on late payment practices, poor treatment of supply chain and the weakening of centrally funded research programmes.

The uncertainty caused by the impending election has been felt in the slackening of demand for construction since the turn of the year, the recent results of our quarterly consultants survey suggested that there has been a halt in new work as we wait for a new government. This has also been seen in a reduction in the immediate pre-election period of house building starts just at a time when we need to be addressing the national shortfall.

So back to my punt at the bookies, I think I will put my money back in my pocket and find something more predictable to spend it on, maybe something in preparation for the barbeque summer?

Response to the Chancellor’s Spending Review

The Chancellor’s statement yesterday was well trailed beforehand so there were few surprises. It seems that the “greenest government ever” is in fact true blue in tooth and claw with a continuing policy of reducing leadership in central government (by decreasing funding of staff) and increasing the expectation of self-reliance by industry.

Buried in the lengthy statement that dwelt very largely on the “back to work” theme was the commissioning of HST1, the prospect of a new North South Crossrail and additional funds for flood defences. All good news for the concrete farmers.

As far as greenness was concerned, there was little said but it is clear that the message concerning the long term availability of secure energy is now well embedded. A number of key issues were put forward:

  • Firstly there was the promise of a strike price for electricity that may bring the construction of new nuclear a little nearer. Without this underpinning of future revenues the private sector is always going to be shy of the massive investments needed with very long term recovery periods.
  • Secondly there was the promise of additional investment incentive for shale gas exploration. Shale gas has the potential to fill a difficult hole in energy supply whilst the nuclear builds take place. Hardly green but a pragmatic response badly needed.

One of the difficult issues our industry is going to face is the additional loss of leadership/sponsorship and infrastructure that civil servants have given us through departments such as DCLG, BIS and DECC. As their resources have been pared to the bone, it is unsurprising that delays associated with regulation, planning reform, energy reduction programmes (Green Deal for example) are becoming ever more visible. The question is do we have the energy will and resource to fill that void? The Chancellor specifically identified other industries as the future – “synthetic biology to grapheme” but did not repeat his earlier commitment to a zero carbon built environment.

In a nutshell my take-away from this statement is one of the need for self-reliance and the need to build better “regulation” from within our community rather than expect government to lead. Either that or don a cowboy hat.

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