The best way to bolster the UK’s negotiating position in Brexit is to have a strong and growing economy. The construction industry needs pull together to show the government how it can help that to happen
This was intended to be a column outlining the next steps for Brexit and what it means for our industry, in light of a clear general election result. Well, dear reader, the result has delivered a picture of confusion and not clarity. To be frank, I’m not sure where to start.
But one thing has become absolutely crystal clear: regardless of the exact composition of the new government, no single party can completely run the Brexit negotiations on their own.
The political debate is going to be active. Therefore, it needs to be restated that one of the most important ingredients going into any negotiation is to have a strong hand. In the case of Brexit, this strong hand must, at least in substantial part, take the form of a growing economy.
This is absolutely critical, and it simply has not had enough attention or commentary since the referendum result. Both the government – in whatever form it takes – and parliament as a whole, need to recognise and be more vocal about the importance of taking action that encourages, supports, and facilitates economic growth.
To have a strong hand when negotiating, you need to have things that people want.
Just turning up with a set of demands leads to the danger that those demands will not be heard. We need to ask not just what Brexit can do for us, but what we can do for Brexit
The UK has those assets. It has an economy that is outperforming significant parts of the EU, and strong attractive assets such as London – a unique economic engine and world city that is the envy of European countries. Our regional story is also an improving one, with the Midlands engine and northern powerhouse, along with six new metro-mayors and the devolved administrations. Though there is more to do, we have the opportunity to enter the negotiations with confidence and a strong base. But we cannot afford to be complacent or passive in our approach.
We need to remain focused on the importance of a strong and growing economy and in that context – in fact, critical to it – is the confidence to refurbish, develop, build and deliver the buildings, homes and infrastructure to make it happen.
So while we may now all be plunged into a fascinating spectator sport and get distracted by political theatre over the coming days and weeks, we as an industry need to get our sleeves rolled up, develop our story, and outline what our contribution to strengthening the UK’s hand is going to be.
This means, we need to build new alliances and look at our “offer” as well as our “ask”. Too often, people approach government with the demands they want to see met, which can intensify when a government is weakened. We can be sure that every sector, not just the construction and development sectors, will be sharpening up and restating their Brexit wishlist. Construction and development will of course need to be part of that story – we need to ensure we have the resources, skills and funding necessary to encourage the industry to continue at its current rate, let alone grow as we face life outside the European Union.
However, simply turning up in front of a stretched government with a set of demands leads to the danger that those demands will not be heard. We need to ask not just what Brexit can do for us, but what we can do for Brexit.
So what are we, as an industry, going to do to encourage the “strong and stable” economy that we need in order to get the best from our negotiations? How can we secure the sustained development and growth of our UK-based workforce?
This is not a time for us to compete against each other, but do things a bit differently. That, after all, is what we will now be expecting from our politicians
It’s very important to think beyond just what we want and to start working out what we can offer: this will encompass all those involved, from developers, to housebuilders, and from funders to investors, as well as constructors.
There has to be a willingness from the public and private sectors to invest in construction, building new homes and delivering new infrastructure. There must be a plan for investment in affordable housing alongside the private rented sector and delivering new homes for sale.
And we need to get people thinking now. Leaders in the sector – across development and construction and all parts in between – must sit together to work out what our offer is. It will be for all parties in the industry to work together to develop an action plan and a compelling deal.
This is not a time for us to compete against each other, but do things a bit differently. That, after all, is what we will now be expecting from our politicians. I suggest we need a manifesto for the combined development and construction industry and media, starting from the Building a Better Brexit campaign led by Building magazine: half will be our offer and the contributions our sector will make to driving sustained UK economic growth in a post-Brexit world, the other half can then focus on the demands that will secure that offer for the future.
The government and business sectors are going to need to work more closely together. So from affordable housing to commercial property, from high-speed rail to new and improved roads, let’s demonstrate what we can do to set the pace and make a really positive contribution to the UK economy and the country as a whole.
Richard McCarthy is senior director strategic services at Capita