Chancellor pledges billions to fund industry projects

Budget 2020 - Rishi Sunak - Credit House of Commons : Parliament Live TVScreen Shot 2020-03-11 at 15.08.40

Source: House of Commons / Parliament Live TV

Construction industry leaders reacted positively to the Budget announced today by Rishi Sunak, but several key figures said they were expecting more.

Despite another delay to the national infrastructure strategy, the new chancellor revealed ambitious funding plans for housing, infrastructure and building safety, including a £600bn injection for infrastructure projects.

Noble Francis, economics director of the Construction Products Association, said: “Rishi Sunak’s first Budget rightly focused on measures to steer the UK economy through the impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak.

”It was nevertheless encouraging to hear the government’s continued commitment to infrastructure and to ‘get Britain building’.

”As ever with such announcements, clear and precise detail on where specifically spending will be allocated, how it will be funded and who will do the work will be critical for industry.”

Guillaume Fleuti, head of infrastructure and industrials at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “The chancellor has put meat on the bones of the levelling-up agenda with the extra detail – and hard cash – for infrastructure.”

Fleuti said the key now is how quickly the plans are put into action and the industry’s order books fill up.

Sunak, who only became chancellor last month, announced funding for road and rail infrastructure projects including £500m a year to fill potholes and more than £27bn on strategic roads across England over the next five years. 

Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, said: “Well-maintained road and rail networks are critical to the economic productivity of the UK and our ability to be an attractive destination for businesses and holidaymakers.”

However, with the number of cases of coronavirus increasing in the UK, some companies question the timing of this billion-pound investment.

Richard Steer, chairman of Gleeds, said: “The huge announcement on infrastructure spending and increased funding for housing would be a cause for celebration under normal circumstances, however when it is announced in the teeth of a global crisis, with limited reliable financial data, you wonder how much control they have over the economy to find and invest the cash.”

An extension to the Affordable Homes Programme was also announced with a new, multi-year settlement of £12 billion.

Dave Sheridan, executive chairman at ilke Homes, said a properly funded affordable housing sector could help the off-site manufacturing industry to grow.

However, some firms pointed out there was no mention of how the government plans to support SME builders. Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “Master builders are facing major barriers finding land, accessing finance and skilled workers – these will all need addressing if we are to build 300,000 homes a year.”

More than 1,000 days after the Grenfell Tower disaster, Sunak announced a £1bn building safety fund to ensure all unsafe combustible cladding is removed from high-rise buildings over 18m. But some have said this funding had come too late.

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director of Ringley, said: “More than 1,000 days after Grenfell, the government has shown that it is still not ready to act at the scale needed for the cladding crisis. We cannot simply wait for the next crisis to happen, while millions of people are left unsure over the safety of their building.”