With the prospect of a coalition government, it’s important to properly consider the smaller political parties’ construction values
So, we’re almost there. In under a week, the country will go to the polls for the UK’s closest run election in living memory. And it seems that it is not just the electorate at large which is having difficulty deciding between the parties. The paper thin difference in levels of support for the two largest parties nationally is also mirrored in who the industry believes will offer the best deal for construction.
Building’s last two polls on the issue have, respectively, put the Conservatives marginally ahead of Labour, and then Labour marginally ahead of the Conservatives. Last week, 50% of respondents favoured the Tories when it came to issues affecting industry; this week, amid continuing concern over the potential impact of the Conservatives’ proposed right to buy extension, that had dropped to 42% to Labour’s 46%. But with more initiatives being suggested almost daily by the parties - particularly around the hot topic of housing - whether this swing in industry backing will last is, like the final result, far too close to call.
The positive news is that, given the growing importance of housing as an election issue, there is at least consensus around the need to supply more homes - even if there are sharp divides between politicians about how this should be done
One potentially very significant difference between the national polls and the level of support industry feels for the parties’ policies, is, however, the level of backing for the smaller parties. Nationally, support for the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Greens together was measured at around 27% when Building went to press. However, only 12% of our poll respondents believed any of these parties offered the best prospects for the industry. So with a coalition of some kind almost certainly on the cards, there has to be genuine concern from a sector point of view about the impact the almost inevitably close result could have on the sector’s prospects over the course of the next parliament.
In this week’s issue, as part of our comparison of where the parties stand in their attitudes towards construction, we look at where there might be room for negotiation on key industry issues - for good or for bad.
The positive news is that, given the growing importance of housing as an election issue, there is at least consensus around the need to supply more homes - even if there are sharp divides between politicians about how this should be done. This, hopefully, will help drive any parties involved in an alliance or coalition agreement to prioritise the issue - and help avoid the situation last time round, where clear policies on housing delivery only really emerged later in the parliamentary term.
Similarly, there appears to be little contention over the wisdom of increasing apprenticeship places and improving the country’s under-pressure transport infrastructure - although with the latter, there is still deep division over how this should be managed. An important barometer for whether a mechanism can be put in place that will enable the longer-term infrastructure planning the industry is crying out for will clearly be whether any combination of coalition partners can first agree a way forward among themselves.
In other policy areas affecting industry, however, the path to agreement and action seems less clear cut. This is particularly the case on those issues inexorably linked to the availability of capital funding, given the deeply divisive issue of the management of the UK’s deficit. Against this backdrop, the need for the industry to lobby on the measures that most affect it only looks set to intensify after the polling queues have disappeared, and the outcome of next week’s battle is known.
Sarah Richardson, Building editor