David Cameron’s rousing finale to this year’s Conservative Party Conference – focused on family, community and country and highlighted health, regeneration, education and housing. The importance for our sectors in focusing on the benefits of investment in infrastructure, and the role of built assets in enabling efficiency, rather than simply as a cost, has never been more relevant.
Unlocking regeneration schemes
A positive step discussed at the conference was the potential for local authorities to borrow against future increases in business rates (the result of successful regeneration). Local authorities are in a good position to do this, as they have a very strong covenant, and influence over many of the key value drivers.
Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham Council talked of piloting such a scheme – a great move demonstrating strong leadership and commitment to making a difference. However, one of the key issues is ‘pace’ – how do we accelerate delivery when planning, procurement, bureaucracy and administration seem to hamper even the most committed of councils?
Securing housing delivery
The over-arching focus of the housing debate at the conference was on localism and devolving local decision making to local communities; most clearly evidenced by the announced intent to abolish the Regional Spatial Strategy - in favour of more emphasis on local development frameworks shaped locally.
There is still a need to focus on increasing the industry capacity, skills and product standardisation that will give substance to the new policy and ensure that the current renewed acceleration in housing policy is maintained.
Focusing on health outcomes
Andrew Lansley’s, “Efficiency, equity and excellence” aligned to choosing your hospital consultant, positive birth experience, a zero tolerance on infection and continuing reductions in post trauma emergency care are all laudable. The aim of improving social care and re-energising the Public Health agenda is obviously to be applauded too.
As the Conservatives embrace an active debate about competition and choice; one of the stimuli may well be the use of "Not for Profit" organisations in the Third Sector - to work alongside the NHS to provide competition and an alternative route to more personalised healthcare.
New school models
A greater number of smaller schools at secondary level, more Academies, and more schools promoted by other organisations, such as under the Swedish Model of independent provider, poses significant implications for the supply of school places in suitably equipped and appropriately located school buildings – many of which do not yet exist.
The intent of Conservatives proposal also has implications for the delivery of any continuing capital investment programmes for education, e.g. BSF and how the funds are deployed – especially in the light of potential future investment funding constraints.
To achieve these goals, an incoming Conservative Government would need to examine how to achieve those plans more efficiently and faster than the present and also take account of the greater degrees of flexibility which would be needed to meet changes in demand.
Reflecting on all above, and as we enter an era of public funding cuts, the role of built asset consultants will be in helping public sector organisations explore viable alternatives to delivery within tightening budgets.
The measures outlined by George Osbourne - may only achieve circa £7bn of savings, whilst the problem is a £175bn one. So, there is a plan emerging for day one – but given the size of the challenge ahead, it may take two or more terms to resolve.
Graham Kean is partner and head of public at consultants EC Harris