So Brown’s government is to be “aggressively pro-business”, according to John Hutton, the business secretary.
As part of a “serious redesign”, the DTI has become the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, a name that leaves the PM’s intentions in little doubt. To help run it, Brown has drafted in the former CBI chief – and Building columnist – Sir Digby Jones, and has appointed a 15-strong panel of business folk to an advisory council.
But what of our business? Does this cultivation of wealth creators extend to the sector that produces 9% of it? Well, if the business council is anything to go by, the omens don’t look great, as no housebuilders, contractors or consultants are included. But perhaps the industry should look at itself here? None of its senior figures are household names, like Sir Richard Branson or Sir Alan Sugar. And other members, such as Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco or Damon Buffini of private equity firm Permira, sit on the council for education and excellence. Just a thought, but if construction’s leaders want more influence over their wider society, they ought to engage with it more.
On the ministerial front, we now have Stephen Timms, our sixth construction minister in six years. As with his predecessors, one might imagine that the time he has to devote to construction will be limited. That said, Margaret Hodge gained a reputation for understanding the sector (let’s hope she takes to her architecture brief as readily). Timms would be well advised to concentrate his department’s attention on a few issues, such as helping the industry tackle climate change and ensuring that environment policy is
co-ordinated across Whitehall. As a former chief secretary to the Treasury, and the man in charge of last year’s drive for sustainable procurement, he should know the terrain. He should also push to make the government a best practice client, see through the reform of the Construction Act, and lobby for schools, hospitals and housing in Alistair Darling’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
Use only as directed
Is biomass the ideal solution to our coming energy famine? Looked at from one angle, the answer is yes: it’s carbon neutral, more reliable and cheaper than wind or solar energy, and is being taken up on ever more schemes. From another angle, it’s not so clear. For one thing, the cultivation of biofuel crops has caused maize prices to soar in Mexico and quickened the devastation of the Indonesian rainforests. And, when used for transport, the carbon savings aren’t clear; some argue that bioethanol causes more carbon than burning natural gas. Biomass from local woods and domestic refuse is a good thing, especially when converted into a gas. But that’s as far it should go; a wholesale switch to biomass is not a panacea for our pathological appetite for energy.
Denise Chevin, editor