General election: Tier one contractors call for construction focus

Major contractors have called for a clear focus on construction during the campaign period that began with yesterday’s announcement of a general election on 4 July.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak caught many political commentators by surprise by calling voters to the ballot box six months before the end of the current Parliament.

Balfour Beatty chief executive Leo Quinn said it was “good news” to have an election date.

“This election is an opportunity to provide a clear map of the future for our country and allow business and industry to plan and respond accordingly,” he said. “What is needed is stability, consistency, and certainty.

“With the Infrastructure Project Authority seeing planned and projected investment of £775bn in the infrastructure sector – specifically in the energy and transport sectors – my ask of future government policy is simple: commit, commit, commit.

“It is a surefire way to boost growth and futureproof our economy – and the industry is more than ready to deliver.”

Wates Group public sector director Steve Beechey said the contractor would “work closely with the next administration – of whatever party – to deliver the homes, schools and prisons that the nation desperately needs”.

He added: “Wates Group is committed to investing in the UK. To do this, we need certainty and stability to enable us to make strategic decisions for the long term – and in doing so create new jobs and training opportunities for people up and down the country.

“We hope that the beginning of a new administration will bring this certainty, and we call for all major parties to put forward policy proposals prioritising a long-term pipeline for the construction industry.”

Galliford Try chief executive Bill Hocking said the earlier-than-expected election was “good for both the country and the [construction] industry” because delays associated with political uncertainty would be shortened.

Home Builders Federation executive chairman Stewart Baseley said the housing body “welcomed the certainty” of finally having an election date.

“We will be ready to work with ministers of whichever party immediately after the election to help reverse declining housebuilding numbers,” he added.

“We face significant barriers to housing delivery that require a positive approach to policy and regulation.

“Faced with the prospect of our longstanding housing crisis becoming a housing emergency, it’s never been more important for government to engage positively with the industry and its supply chain.”

Omitting construction

In a rain-soaked speech outside Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon (22 May), the Tory leader said he had “tackled inflation… seized the opportunities of Brexit… [and was] stopping the boats”.

There was little mention of construction, save for a reference to scrapping northern portions of HS2 “to invest more in local transport you actually use”.

Sunak’s announcement came the day after Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner pledged to build a wave of new towns across the country if elected, pledging to “get Britain building again”.

National Federation of Builders head of policy and market insight Rico Wojtulewicz noted the omission of the construction sector from the prime minister’s speech yesterday.

“Unfortunately this is because housing and construction have been failed by this government,” he said.

“If Britain is to grow sustainably, its next government needs to reform planning, understand the commercial impacts of its decision and, most importantly, talk to those it will rely on to implement its promises.”

The trade body will launch its own manifesto in the coming days, with chief executive Richard Beresford saying: “These next six weeks are a chance to hammer home to all parties how construction has been let down, where decisions have worked and continue to support our sector – and where reform is desperately needed.”

The Chartered Institute of Building said it will also release a manifesto as part of a concerted lobbying effort to “stress the important role our industry plays in the economy [and] the safety and wellbeing of communities”.

Eddie Tuttle, director of policy at the organisation, said it would look to “ensure the next government, whoever that may be, understands how it can better support the sector to thrive”.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of operations Marie-Claude Hemming said the election announcement “must sound the starting gun on a new focus on the UK’s infrastructure needs”.

“We would like to see the next administration make clear-cut commitments to infrastructure delivery within its first 100 days of office, as communities in all parts of the country are relying on the economic growth and job creation that only investment in infrastructure can guarantee,” she added.

Hemming said the pandemic and war in Ukraine made it “more important than ever” to take decisions on UK infrastructure out of the political cycle and create long-term pipelines of work.

“It is only by backing infrastructure delivery and our infrastructure sector that the next government will be able to build a stronger economy and unlock the potential of our communities and businesses across the country,” she added.

A Construction Products Association spokesperson said the snap election was likely to cause “some delays” on certain government matters of importance to the sector.

This could impact the ongoing saga concerning the switch from European CE conformity markings to the post-Brexit UKCA scheme, as well as “some elements of building safety and related areas such as testing and capacity”, they said.

“Our focus for the election will be to ramp up engagement between our members and their local candidates, and help raise awareness of the importance of manufacturing and construction to the success of the major parties’ policy objectives, such as housing, infrastructure, energy efficiency, net zero and levelling up,” the spokesperson added.

“Ultimately of course, we’re aiming to raise the profile of the industry and cement new relationships that will support our work with the new government in the months and years ahead.”

Labour politicians made a near-clean sweep at recent mayoral elections on the back of manifestos including a raft of major building projects.

Meanwhile, the Tory Government in May ratified an agreement to join a trans-Pacific trade bloc, saying the deal could boost construction output by £119m a year.

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