The election may have been dominating the news for weeks, but it is really only now - with all manifestos in the public domain - that the battle for votes is under way
The election might already feel like it’s been dominating the news agenda for weeks, but it is really only now - with all manifestos in the public domain - that the battle for votes is under way in earnest. And so for construction, it is heartening to see that key issues affecting the industry - housing, energy efficiency and supply, and skills - are taking much more space on the centre stage in this final run into the ballot than they were this time in 2010.
Building’s Agenda 15 manifesto, published at the start of the year, picked out the measures that, according to our year-long consultation with industry, would best enable construction to help the UK economy, by promoting an efficient, sustainable sector which is able to plan for future delivery of key assets - whether that be housing, schools or transport links.
As the election nears, it is this industry manifesto against which we will judge the parties on their stance towards the sector. The Conservatives’ right to buy extension, announced last week, continues to attract the ire of housing associations for undermining, rather than helping, the housing crisis; and as we explore in full on pages 24-25, commentators are questioning whether the proposed sale of the UK’s most expensive council homes can come anywhere near funding the replacement council homes and brownfield development promised by the party. Quite apart from the questionable legality of the government selling an asset that doesn’t actually belong to them. The scepticism is evidently shared by many of our readers - the poll on page 23 shows a resounding 82% think the policy is not a sensible response to the UK’s housing crisis.
Whichever party ultimately looks to offer the best deal for construction, the fact that party leaders are choosing to respond directly to the sector is encouraging
Meanwhile, this week, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have become the first leaders to take up our invitation to the heads of the main Westminster parties to respond to our manifesto’s aims, and set out their own key messages to the sector. Both have chosen to emphasise their housebuilding targets; perhaps seeking to capitalise on the growing hostility to the Tory plans for housing.
Any additional detail the parties provide on these policies will be closely watched by the sector over the coming weeks. But whichever party ultimately looks to offer the best deal for construction, the fact that party leaders are choosing to respond directly to the sector is encouraging. Both Miliband and Clegg in their letters emphasise their long-term commitment to infrastructure and to building up the skills base, and this time, we hope, they really could be paying more than lip service.
The importance of construction to the UK’s future functionality and growth is readily apparent, both in terms of its contribution to GDP and the nature of the work it does. Yet it has been a long-standing complaint of our industry that this is not reflected in the time devoted within Whitehall to understanding and improving the business environment the industry operates in. In short, construction has been the victim of bizarre, and highly frustrating, political neglect.
Whichever party - or parties - come out on top following the vote on 7 May, the increased level of attention politicians are paying to industry-related policies at this campaigning stage is an encouraging signal that the industry can also expect to have closer attention paid to it by the next government than it may feel it has received in the recent past. And that its engagement with the sector might be more sustained - and hopefully less frivolous - than those construction site-based photo opportunities that appear to have become a mainstay of political campaigning.
Sarah Richardson, editor