Whether you think its right or wrong, Tony Blair’s impending eviction from Downing Street is going to have repercussions for the industry.
As Gordon Brown has had the loudest voice when it comes to public spending, one might imagine that his premiership would mean business as usual. But prime minister Brown could be a very different animal from chancellor Brown – especially if he calls a snap election and wins his own mandate.
What we can be certain of, though, is that ministers are going to spend 12 months in a continuous state of distraction. Civil servants will be referring everything to the Treasury, while the Treasury will be busy ensuring Brown’s leadership victory. Where does this leave the reform of PFI and the planning system? Or the Barker review? Or Building Schools for Some Point in the Future? And what about the city academies – they were Blair’s enthusiasm, but not Brown’s. With Blair casting around for a legacy, and Brown looking to take over a functioning public sector, both have an interest in preventing paralysis setting in. So let’s hope rationality prevails …
The miseducation of Britain
One area where the government hasn’t done the industry any favours is education policy. The obsession with getting half of the school population into higher education has cut off the supply of traditional site foremen and supervisors. The good news is that the number of people taking construction degrees is rising, but as we report in this week’s salary survey, site managers who’ve come up from the tools, and who know how to build, have become scarce. Of course, lack of training by the larger contractors and a generation lost in the 1990s slump are also to blame for this situation.
On the upside, some firms, such as Bovis Lend Lease, are taking on more youngsters for site-based training, and CITB–ConstructionSkills’ new project-based apprenticeships programmes are due to start in the autumn. And as the average student’s debt begins to approach the GNP of Ecuador, anecdotal evidence mounts that able 16 and 18 year olds are eschewing the call of media studies to go straight into construction. So maybe, in a decade’s time, we’ll have replenished the drying well of people who can lead a team and know whether a brick should be laid frog up or frog down. In the meantime, expect soaring wages for the best site managers – and rampant poaching.
Denise Chevin, editor