The Labour party gathering in Manchester has set the tone for debate and the mood music for the sector is encouraging
The start of the party conference season has been somewhat overshadowed politically this week, falling between the domestic headline-grabber of the Scottish no vote and the likely recall of parliament over international intervention against the Islamic State.
For construction, however, the Labour party gathering in Manchester has set the tone for the debate on some key industry issues ahead of the next general election. And so far, even though the countdown to next May’s vote is, for now, taking a back seat to more immediate political affairs, the mood music for the sector is encouraging.
Over four days in the North-west, the Labour leadership placed housing and green development at the forefront of the election debate, with both issues featuring prominently in leader Ed Miliband’s keynote speech.
The party began outlining some of the mechanisms by which it aims to build 200,000 homes a year and, in a move that stands in contrast to recent government U-turns on sustainability initiatives, pledged to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority.
The Labour leadership placed housing and green development at the forefront of the election debate
The focus on both areas resonates with the calls made in Building’s draft Agenda 15 manifesto for construction, published on Building.co.uk for consultation on Monday, after a six month phase of gathering industry contributions. The pledge to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority, as part of a Labour drive to insulate 5 million homes over the next decade, is in line with a specific call in our draft document.
In addition, Labour’s pledge to make apprenticeships a condition of winning public sector work over £1m matches another of our calls: to tie training more closely to public procurement.
Despite these encouraging statements of intent, there was still a marked lack of detail around how Labour’s aims would be implemented - particularly as a result of the delay to the anticipated Lyons’ review of housing. Now expected to be published the coming weeks, this will set out in full how Labour intends to increase housebuilding by a volume that equates to an annual increase of around 62,500 on current levels.
But, unlike the much derided “forgotten” areas of Ed Miliband’s speech - apparently unintentional omissions on the small matters of the national deficit and immigration - at least there is no doubt over the party’s intention to address three areas of policy that are so crucial to the industry.
The crux for construction will come in how these policy goals will be realised, but in placing these issues at the front of its agenda, Labour has laid down the gauntlet for other parties to do the same. This can only be good news for the sector, which has frequently made the case that its contribution to the economy is not reflected in the seriousness with which it is considered by policy makers and, by extension, by government as its biggest client.
So it may feel like a phoney war at present, but the election battle is shaping up to be one in which the industry has every chance to make itself heard.
Sarah Richardson, Building editor
You can respond to the Agenda 15 draft manifesto through our online survey at www.building.co.uk/agenda15