Report unveiled at the Labour conference this week says public sector building pledges are not being met

The government is missing too many targets in its drive to produce new schools, hospitals and housing, an annual study by the Construction Products Association has found.

The CPA’s report, Achievable Targets?, monitors the government’s delivery of its targets for investment in the built environment and was launched at the Labour Party Conference this week.

Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI, agreed that too many targets were being missed.

He said: “In too many areas inadequate mechanisms are in place to monitor what progress is being made and whether the investment is value for money. The private sector would never be able to treat its customers like this.”

Achievable Targets breaks down the targets and the government’s performance into key categories including social housing, education, healthcare, road and rail.

CPA chief executive Michael Ankers said: “While we welcome the government’s commitment to address years of under investment, missed targets, a failure to set new ones and in many areas not monitoring progress at all creates a great deal of uncertainty which affects our members.”

A stock response

On social housing, the CPA report repeats its wishlist of a year ago, as it says government has not cleared up the confusion over the provision of social housing.

The report says: “The association is disappointed that none of the recommendations made in its 2004 report have been heeded. The commitment to increase new social housing provision 50% a year by 2007/08 is an important step-change in provision, but it clearly falls short of the doubling in new provision identified by [Treasury economist Kate] Barker.

“With the next spending review not now expected until 2007, the government is facing a huge challenge to deliver the target increase by April 2008 if it is to rely on funding from efficiency gains and the PFI.”

The government last year accepted it had missed its targets for improving existing housing stock, but assured that they would be met by the end of 2004. The CPA says it is “doubtful that this has happened”.

The aim to cut the backlog of council houses needing repair 900,000 by April 2004 was missed – the figure fell only 630,000.

The target of building 100,000 new houses over the three years to 2004 was achieved – albeit slightly late.

Schools’ future in doubt

The CPA has also warned that the government is in danger of missing its targets for the Building Schools for the Future programme. It states that the aim of delivering 380 schools by April 2008 is “at risk” because of a “slow start”.

The report states: “Disappointingly, no BSF schemes have yet reached financial close, despite the first local education authorities being selected 18 months ago. More rapid progress is now required to bring these initial schemes through to start on site.”

Of the 80 new-build and 90 refurbishment projects from the pathfinders and first wave of LEAs, eight are in procurement but none has reached preferred bidder stage.

An improved prognosis

Better news for the government comes from the health sector. The plan to open 100 new hospitals by 2010 is on target: 54 are now operational and a further 32 are under construction.

None of the proposals made in the 2004 report have been heeded

CPA report Achievable Targets

In addition, an initial target to develop 20 treatment centres by last December has been exceeded by 10.

However, the plan to open a further 60 by this December is looking more shaky: only 16 have become operational, with another 17 in development.

The government also missed its target on primary care centres: 510 were in development by last December but not operational, which was the aim.

The NHS estate as a whole had its state of disrepair improved 16% instead of the planned 25% by March 2004. Targets to make the estate fire and health and safety compliant were also missed.

Totally stalled

The real horror stories, however, were to be found in transport.

On roads, local authorities continued to struggle to deliver major local improvements, and the Highways Agency’s development programme has slipped back over the past two years.

“Almost halfway through the 10-year programme, only a quarter of the promised 100 bypasses and 360 miles of widening of the strategic road network have been completed,” says the CPA.

Ministers decided to scale back the agency’s objectives for 2004/05 following the 2004 spending review – hence only eight schemes started on site that year. Despite an enhanced schedule up to 2007/08, the programme will struggle to get back on track, and the deferral and review of major projects such as Stonehenge will not help matters.

Major targets missed include:

  • 100 new bypasses by 2010 – 24 have been completed, 23 are in planning or construction;
  • Widening of 360 miles of strategic road network by 2010 – only 91 miles have been widened so far;
  • 130 major local roads schemes by 2010 – 68 have won planning but most are yet to start on site;

Hitting the buffers

On the railways, the demise of any strategic plan has left the industry in turmoil. “The lack of a meaningful high-level government transport strategy is causing uncertainty across the industry as it remains unclear how much of the 10-year transport plan has been abandoned and what solid plans the government has for the future,” says the CPA report.

It adds that progress is “doomed to slow” because the allocation from the 2004 spending review does not provide enough funding for the schemes initially set out in the plan.

Progress, however, has been made in renewing existing stock, with the number of broken rails halved since 2000. Yet the average track has used between 55 and 65% of its service life, and much work remains to be done on renewal.

The three major new-build schemes have faced contrasting fortunes. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is set to exceed its target by being operational by 2007 – three years ahead of schedule.

However, the Thameslink 2000 scheme to extend the current Thameslink rail network is unlikely to be delivered before 2012, because of a planning inquiry. Its first phase was due to have been running by 2008.

Meanwhile, the Crossrail bill is before parliament but the funding package for the scheme is very much still to be worked out.

How to get the government back on track: The CPA’s proposals

Social housing

  • The government to commit to target put forward in Kate Barker’s review (increase provision of social housing by 17,000-23,000 new homes every year).
  • Regular government lists of social housing planned by regional housing boards.
  • A set target for the total volume of social housing in the sustainable communities plan.
  • Better monitoring of how quickly planned improvements are delivered.
  • Summaries of planned improvements to social housing stock should be published annually by the government, and a target should be implemented to reduce the council house repairs backlog by 2008.
  • The DfES should announce annually where funding is going, how many schools have been remodelled or built through Building Schools for the Future programme, and how many outside the programme.
  • DfES should set out targets for primary school rebuilding.
  • DfES should set milestones to reduce the repair backlog over the current spending review period up to April 2008.
  • Annual data should be published on the number of primary care centres completed and GP centres modernised.
  • Results of last four annual condition surveys between 2000 and 2004 should be published to provide benchmarks for reducing disrepair.
  • Priority to eliminate £580m backlog in fire and health and safety compliance. The government should set a new timetable to remove backlog by April 2008.
  • Government should cut estate repair backlog to £1.5bn by April 2008 and remove it by 2010/11.Roads
  • Government should publish annual figures on congestion levels.
  • Department for Transport should set out programme for delivering road improvements by 2010 and roll forward measures earmarked in the 10-year plan to 2015.
  • Local authorities should be monitored to ensure that expenditure matches allocation over the five-year period of local transport plans. Otherwise, local authorities can underspend.
  • A clear programme for rail enhancements should be published for the next 15 years.
  • Network Rail and DfT to establish who has responsibility for what in terms of large projects.
  • Thameslink 2000 and Crossrail to have targets for completion.
  • New target for station upgrades by 2010.
  • New target for ensuring rails are younger than 50% of their service life.
  • DfT to set new policy on light rail schemes.