The UK is on the brink of one of the most important constitutional reforms this century. What might the benefits be for the industry?

What effect will the new Scottish parliament have on construction? Nobody knows. None of the four main parties has a specific construction spokesperson, but all have views on housing, transport, education and health. So, the industry will have to lobby a number of departments and rely on a combination of ministers to fight its cause.

The Scottish construction industry has been quick to start lobbying the main parties on issues such as the private finance initiative, housing and cowboy builders. The RICS, the Scottish Building Employers Federation and the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland see the weeks before the election as their big chance to shape policy affecting construction and influence what, in some cases, are inexperienced candidates.

They have not had to work too hard to get the PFI on the agenda. All parties concede that some form of public-private partnership is needed. But the acknowledged front-runners, Labour and the Scottish National Party, are at loggerheads over the issue.

Labour wants the PFI to continue in its current form and gained some backing for it at the recent Scottish TUC conference. The SNP favours setting up two private trusts to commission and finance projects. One would cover major PFI schemes and infrastructure investment; the other would fund housing. Unlike the current system, the buildings would be held in the "community interest" in perpetuity.

The SNP claims that it will be able to spend £236m more on housing, thanks to the penny it wants to add to income tax.

Liberal Democrats promise to use the parliament's tax varying powers – if necessary – to boost housing investment via a mixture of housing associations and local authority landlords. It also pledges to set up a Scottish housing ministry. Meanwhile, the Tories are pushing the right to buy for council tenants.

Planning is also high on the agenda. The parliament will have the power to change all planning decisions made by Westminster to suit Scottish needs. The Liberal Democrats promise to set up a Scottish parliamentary commission of architects, planners and community leaders to set planning criteria. Labour and the SNP say they are keen to "streamline" the planning process, but details on how this will be done are sketchy.

Similarly, all parties pay lip-service to brownfield development – and none has any specific policies. That is why industry groups say the lobbying work will continue into July and beyond – the parliament's procedural rules allow much longer consultation periods than in Westminster.


The construction industry in Wales is not lobbying political parties with as much vigour as in Scotland. Indeed, the Welsh Society of Architects does not plan to start lobbying until after the elections.

However, changes to the planning appeals system are already causing concern. Appeals are currently made to the secretary of state for Wales. From 1 July, appeals will be heard by the assembly's planning committee. The CBI and the Conservatives are worried that this will lengthen the appeals process. But Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in favour. They say that the new system will be more democratic than its predecessor.

Liberal Democrats are keen to bring environmental issues into the planning process. They want legislation that requires all major planning applications to include a statement on environmental impact. A party spokesman said: "We want to ensure that more comprehensive planning guidance is provided on key environmental issues and on the whole question of sustainability." The PFI is another hot issue. Plaid Cymru says it wants alternative methods of funding projects wherever possible: "While being generally unhappy with the idea of PFI, we would not want to rule it out entirely if alternative routes of funding are not available." This view is echoed by the Liberal Democrats.

Labour remains committed to the PFI and wants to extend it to housing repair.

The Liberal Democrats want to address the high cost of bidding for PFI projects by reducing bureaucracy in the tendering process. The Tories are less concerned. "Unfortunately, that's the way it is in business," a party spokesman said. A Labour representative said the party was not proposing to change the system.

What the Scottish industry wants …

Scottish Building Employers Federation More public sector partnering, and PFI on big schemes to continue New Deal funds to be redirected into more effective training schemes An independent body to register operatives and combat cowboy builders Abolition of VAT on repairs and renovations to level the playing field with new build More brownfield development but no rigid targets RICS Scotland Scottish minister for construction Local authority housing transferred to housing or community associations VAT on housing refurbishment to be brought into line with new-build levels Incentives for developing brownfield land National planning policy guidelines to be incorporated into one document Planning guidelines for regions rather than individual local authorities Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland National policy on architecture Focus on brownfield development Energy assessments for new buildings Efficient and accountable planning Government to promote model procurement methods and design excellence Scottish Construction Industry Pathfinder Group A national masterplan for infrastructure development and land use Construction expertise to be used to develop “under-utilised public assets” by way of public-private partnerships Housing stock to be transferred to housing associations

The new face of Scottish politics

Elections will take place on 6 May. Voters have two votes – one for a local candidate to be elected by the first-past-the-post system and one for a party. The 129-member parliament will be made up of 73 constituency MSPs and 56 who have been elected by proportional representation. The executive will comprise a first minister, a lord advocate, a solicitor-general and ministers for devolved affairs. Parliament will start business on 1 July, but will not move into its Enric Miralles-designed building (above) until 2001. The parliament will be able to raise or lower income tax by up to 3p, will have planning powers and will dictate spending on housing, health, regeneration, education and transport.

… and what the Welsh are lobbying for

Federation of Master Builders (Wales branch) Local authorities to use approved lists of builders Local authorities to only use contractors that have insurance to cover their work. House Builders’ Federation (Wales branch) Planning development decisions to be made at a regional level Financial assistance to make the development of brownfield land more economic. Welsh Federation of Housing Associations The current level of social housing development to be at least maintained, and preferably increased. RICS Wales Costs of PFI bidding to be reduced. Capital funding to be considered in the first instance for PFI projects. The level of inward investment in Wales to be maintained. Royal Society of Architects in Wales Assembly should prioritise sustainability issues such as energy efficiency, use of local materials and upgrading housing stock Planning efficiency should be monitored Greater emphasis on architectural quality and a regional policy for architecture

How the Welsh assembly will work

Elections for the 60-member assembly take place on 6 May. Voters have two votes with 40 members elected by first-past-the-post and 20 through proportional representation. The assembly will open on 1 July, when it will elect a leader and a deputy to preside over assembly debates. An executive committee drawn from members of the majority party will provide overall direction and oversee committees responsible for economic development, training, education, local government, health, housing, environment, planning, transport and heritage. Unlike the Scottish parliament, the assembly has no tax varying powers. It will sit in its Richard Rogers-designed assembly building (above) in 2001.