Construction will be hoping that more homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure represent more than just key battleground on 12 December
Uncertainty is the new normal. Construction bosses trying to plan for the future have probably never expected much help from politicians, but the Brexit impasse has taken expectations to a new low.
If you had been pinning your hopes on some sort of resolution under Boris Johnson’s deal, then you will no doubt be disappointed and frustrated. The prime minister’s “do or die” deadline of 31 October to leave the EU came and went, but we are still there.
The ‘Get Brexit done’ slogan may work for some areas, but more important still will be a clear vision for finally addressing the north-south divide
Instead of working to get his deal approved within parliament’s preferred timeframe, Johnson has opted to press reset and hold an election, the result of which no one can predict. So, at a time of year when most construction leaders would be preparing for the autumn Budget announcement and hoping for a raft of big spending decisions, we are plunged into a period of purdah in which no significant government decisions will be made until after polling day on 12 December.
There cannot be many people outside the Westminster bubble who will savour the prospect of this “Christmas election” – after all, it will have been a mere two years, three months and four days since the last one. But there are some positives to be found in yet another political beauty parade as far as construction is concerned.
Brexit has dominated all political discourse for the past three years – and while that will not stop any time soon, election campaigns have a habit of refocusing attention on issues that are closer to home for voters, such as their actual homes, or lack of them, or poor transport links or high energy bills.
We do not yet have the party manifestos but it is already clear that both Labour and the Conservatives are paying particular attention to marginal seats in the Midlands and the north of England. The “Get Brexit done” slogan may work for some of these areas, but more important still will be a clear vision for rebalancing the economy and finally addressing the north-south divide. In short, voters will want to hear some serious investment pledges.
That goes for the country as a whole: austerity put a lid on capital spending and after nearly a decade there is a feeling that that policy has run its course.
We expect big spending promises from Jeremy Corbyn but it seems the Tories under Johnson are also now willing to loosen the purse strings. One of his first announcements as PM was a pledge to boost the NHS building repairs budget and spend extra cash on building new hospitals.
There is an inevitable downside to pledges made on the campaign trail. The boss of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, was right to warn this week that they risk raising “unrealistic expectations” – he was talking about frontline services, but the same goes for the quantity and quality of the buildings where those services are carried out.
As one industry insider said about our country’s future leaders: “They will say anything now; what matters is what their priorities will be after the election.” Construction will be hoping that more homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure represent more than just key election battlegrounds – they need to be real intentions backed up by fully costed funding plans.
Chloë McCulloch, editor, Building