A government review of construction's ability to refurbish Britain's public services is overdue (see news).
Ever since Blair swept back in 2001 with a shopping list of 100 hospitals and 650 new schools there have been doubts about whether there were really sufficient skilled workers to build them. So far, the labour supply has coped, thanks to contingent factors such as the annihilation of the London office market, planning delays and the length of time needed to get a PFI project on site. And where there have been skills shortages, contractors have filled them with craftsmen from eastern Europe managed by engineers from Australia and South Africa. These days, it's not unusual for one in five of the operatives on London sites to come from overseas. And although everyone says they can't recruit bricklayers or plasterers, those CITB warnings about the 83,000 recruits needed each year somehow seem to lack menace. The industry always just gets by.

But there are ominous signs everywhere. A survey by the CPA and the Construction Confederation show spare capacity among contractors is diminishing. The Department of Health has reduced the number of hospitals it will put out to tender because it worries there will be insufficient bidders. Building inflation is running at four times the Retail Prices Index. The office market is stirring and the London Olympics, which will depend on Crossrail, could be around the corner. The government has embarked on its biggest social housebuilding programme since it came to power and Terminal 5 is about to suck in 1000 electricians, with militants riding on their coat-tails.

So if labour runs out, will the government wave in tens of thousands of migrant workers to take the strain? Perhaps it will listen to the CITB and offer more funding for apprenticeships for home-grown talent – surely a better longer-term bet. Or will ministers prefer to pay the political price of scaling down their ambitions? Everyone in the industry would like a clear steer – that's why the review is so important. Perhaps things will become a little clearer after the chancellor's spending review is announced in July. The Office of Government Commerce will then have to establish whether the industry can meet the government's spending programme, and whether civil servants have the know-how to get the projects rolling at the rate Brown wants.

A parliament fit for wizards

Well, Harry Potter fans at least will warm to the Scottish parliament building (pages 20-24). Couldn’t those angular timber roof trusses in the main debating chamber have been borrowed from Hogwarts? And those MSPs’ cells – sorry, chambers – don’t they have a monastic, even medieval character that would please a Slytherin housemaster? In any case, the building can at last be judged on its architecture. Internally, it is stuffed with fresh, exciting, glowing halls, most of them elliptical in shape. Externally, it is more a collection of amorphous shells in dull granite. But after all the project’s tribulations, interrogations and expense, what a relief to see a building emerging that expands the frontiers of design. But how well will it serve its purpose as a democratic building?
For the answer, we will have to wait for the saga’s next thrilling instalment.