George Osborne’s Autumn Statement is unlikely to be a blockbuster, but there will be plenty for the sector to look out for
The Autumn Statement the chancellor will deliver next Wednesday is set to be not so much a seasonal blockbuster as a trailer for the Conservatives’ 2015 election campaign. It is one of the last set-piece opportunities for George Osborne to lay out spending priorities while in power.
For the construction industry, the relative prominence Osborne gives to the myriad of initiatives the government has touted to spur the sector forward will be an important test of his party’s priorities.
He is also expected to set out more detail on which construction and infrastructure projects will benefit from headline spending announcements outlined last year which, along with a refreshment of the National Infrastructure Plan, will provide a clear indication of the type of schemes that carry the most favour.
The level of detail given on these projects will also test how far the government has bought in to the idea of long-term infrastructure planning, which has become a tenet of Labour policy and is central to Building’s Agenda 15 campaign to secure a political backdrop conducive to a sustainable, efficient industry.
The government’s proposal to devolve more power to big northern cities is also likely to feature; a policy which has led to anticipation of more investment in regeneration and infrastructure outside of the South-east. The level of detail around this will be a helpful indicator to how quickly such a move could take place.
But beyond these announcements are other areas where the prominence which will be afforded by Osborne is less clear cut - and which the industry should watch with interest.
One is housing, where signs of a slowing recovery have led to pleas from housebuilders for the government to move planning reform further up the agenda.
Another is training. Politicians of all parties are fond of making headline grabbing pronouncements about selected pots of funding for apprentices and vocational training. But with the industry facing a skills shortage which requires it to train an estimated 182,000 people in the next five years, it would take some indication of longer-term, consistent funding increases to convince the sector that the Conservatives really understand the magnitude of the issue and the potential impact on the economy.
Finally - despite being less likely to feature - there is the issue of green construction and retrofit. David Cameron’s pledge to lead the “greenest government ever” has long since hit the cutting room floor, but with the wider economy picking up, the question of whether green initiatives will recover any standing is one which is ripe for answering.
So, while it may not be one for fans of big budget special effects, the statement’s nuances will shape the plot of the next six months - and that makes it one to watch.
Sarah Richardson, editor