Most government initiatives identified as a way of boosting the economy through the construction has floundered in the execution
This week’s cabinet reshuffle has produced a distinctly “new term” feel about the government’s return to parliament. But the changes in many of the roles that directly affect construction - with former construction minister Mark Prisk taking on the housing brief, Locog chief Paul Deighton being brought in to spearhead infrastructure development, and arguably even the controversial replacement of transport secretary Justine Greening with one-time transport minister Patrick McLoughlin - represent more of a swapping of desks than a completely new intake.
This rearranging of familiar faces has the potential to be a positive one for the industry, as it offers the opportunity for fresh impetus into critical areas of spending and policy that have all but ground to a halt, without compounding current delay by bringing in ministers with little or no detailed sector knowledge. And, as the industry is acutely aware, the need for fresh impetus is becoming more critical by the day, as virtually every initiative identified by the government as a way of boosting the economy through the construction of social, energy and transport infrastructure has floundered in the execution.
Virtually every initiative identified by the government as a way of boosting the economy through the construction of social, energy and transport infrastructure has floundered in the execution
A prime example of this is the education sector, which forms the focus of this week’s special “back to school” issue. With around two-thirds of the secondary school estate without recent investment and a shortage of thousands of places at primary level, there is no disputing the need for a meaningful construction programme. Yet, as we report in Are thse schools really a priority, the long-awaited £2bn PFI programme is still beset by delays, and even the government’s flagship free schools policy is struggling to develop as it envisaged, with a shortage of sites so severe that officials have had to take out an advert in the property press to find potential areas for development (News analysis: Space Exploration).
It’s not that there hasn’t been progress - two years after the government started pushing for standardised school designs, a handful of schools designed to those principles are opening to pupils (we review three of them on: Should schools be uniform). But, in the main, this development has been driven by industry, and if firms do not see government rhetoric around these services translating into a steady, predictable pipeline of work it doesn’t take an A-grade student to work out that they will wind down investment.
David Cameron’s reshuffle has been widely described as the start of positioning for the next election. That election will be fought around the economy and if the Conservative Party wishes to convince the country that it is delivering results, then the new ministers in post will have to look with urgency at where their departments’ central initiatives are not translating into work on the ground. Then, whether through fresh approaches to kickstarting financing, or increasing direct levels of government support in targeted quick-fix areas, they need to strain every sinew to get Britain moving, before the government is left with a legacy of headline initiatives with no workable detail, and, when it comes to schools, homes and energy, next to no material results.
Sarah Richardson, editor