With just two weeks until the European elections, We canvassed four candidates with fine construction pedigrees and ask them why anyone should care who their MEP is
The tenth of June is the most important date in this year's calendar for four sons of the construction industry. On that date, the general public – or the minority of it that turn out to vote – will decide whether to offer them the job of representing large chunks of the UK in the European parliament. Over the next two weeks they will irritate members of that general public by ringing their doorbells, kissing their babies and trying to start a conversation on a subject that is likely to be of little or no interest to them – the European Union.

In a bid to distract them, however briefly, from that task, we asked the four to explain why people should vote, and why the European Union matters for the British construction industry.

Bill Miller MEP
Labour candidate for Scotland

If you wanted to know who is responsible for the drive to make bidding for public buildings more complicated, Bill Miller is one of the guilty man.

Last year, Miller helped to guide the classical and utilities directives through the European parliament. They are likely to enter domestic legislation later this year.

Bill’s Message to Building readers: We have to have a Europe that creates jobs

The two directives will mean that public clients have carte blanche on their award criteria – that is, value for money will no longer be the paramount factor in dishing out contracts. For example, a council may decide to award a school or roads scheme to the firm that has the most apprentices in its workforce.

Miller argues that the move will make the bidding process more transparent: "The tenderer has to stipulate what it requires at the very beginning of the process. If a contractor knows at the start what a local authority wants, it can know if they want to go for it."

When it comes to council procurement, Miller knows his onions. Prior to becoming an MEP a decade ago, he spent 16 years at Glasgow council, where he ended up serving as senior surveyor.

He qualified as a chartered surveyor in 1978 and soon after started work on some of Scotland's biggest regeneration projects, such as the rebuilding of the notorious Gorbals district of the city.

Den’s Message to Building readers: We need to place a ceiling on the amount the EU spends

Qualifications are important to Miller. As vice-chairman of the committee on legal affairs and the internal market, he is working on legislation that will make professional qualifications accepted throughout the union. At present, many professionals have to retrain if they want to practise elsewhere. Miller says this is particularly important if UK firms want to grasp the myriad schemes that will come out from the 10 countries that joined the EU earlier this month. "With EU expansion, the economies of the new countries will improve – and a lot of their spending will be on building projects."

Den Dover MEP
Conservative candidate for the North-west

Den Dover has had a long and varied career in construction. He worked for contractors Laing and Wimpey, was chief executive of the National Building Agency and worked on the client side as director of housing construction at the Greater London Council.

It is unsurprising that the industry remains close to his heart. Two years ago, he was named as the first president of the the European parliament's forum for Construction. In this position he helps trade bodies and companies to meet and lobby MEPs and European commissioners.

Red tape is Dover's sworn enemy. The working time directive, he argues, has damaged the industry's competitiveness: "It has added unit cost, reduced the scope for overtime and reduced flexibility. In construction, flexibility is everything."

In his own region, Dover is looking to channel EU money into the Merseytram tramway system in Liverpool, so that it is ready for 2008 when the city will be the European capital of culture.

Chris’ Message to Building readers: The North-east is the least developed region of the UK, but I firmly believe that through EU membership we can benefit

On European expansion, Dover sees opportunities for infrastructure contractors, as he believes investment will be directed towards the grand infrastructure projects known to Eurocrats as "trans-European networks".

However, despite the EU funding this will require, Dover's major policy commitment to be keeping the body's spending at 1% of member states' GDP over the next five-year parliament.

Chris Foote Wood
Liberal Democrat candidate for the North-east

"When I had a proper job, I was a civil engineer," reminisces Chris Foote Wood before gushing, "my primary function was as a bridge engineer – and they're all still standing!"

Foote Wood worked on bridges over the A1(M) and the A19 Teesside diversion in the 1960s and 1970s. Road infrastructure is an area he believes he can help the North-east with if he is elected.

Mick’s Message to Building readers: I don’t want anything from the EU except control of our country and our money back

Although as an MEP it would not be up to Foote Wood where EU money is spent, he believes it would give him a platform to further his ambition of making the A1 a dual carriageway all the way up to Scotland. At the moment it turns into a single carriageway after Northumberland. "There's a missing link in the chain, but Euro funding could see to that," he says.

While he talks to Building, Foote Wood sits next to two acquaintances from Estonia, one of the countries that joined the expanded EU earlier this month. He says enlargement will particularly benefit the North-east as the former Eastern bloc countries used to have strong and long-standing links with cities such as Newcastle, where the Baltic exchange was once situated.

Foote Wood says that the expansion will lead to major developments in the ports as a result of increased trade. And it will mean that UK firms can get work from the new member countries: "There is absolutely no reason why our engineers should not go over there and build in those countries. If I was younger I'd do that myself."

Mick Faulkner
UK Independence Party candidate for the South-west

In 2000 Mick Faulkner jacked in his 23-year career as a commercial fisherman to return to the building trade, in which he had served as an apprenticeship as an electrician in the 1970s.

He blames the EU, and its ever decreasing fish quotas, for his move from the high seas. He now makes a living converting houses into bed and breakfasts.

Faulker was only allowed to catch half a tonne of cod a month, while, he says, French boats in UK waters were allowed to take 20 times that amount. He admits to regularly breaking the rules: "About 90% of what I caught was illegal, as I didn't have the quota for it. I refused to throw dead fish back in the sea. I could catch 10 tonnes of cod a day, let alone a month."

EU legislation stipulating that his 18 m vessel had to install specific radio equipment costing £9500, as well as expensive satellite tracking equipment, was the final straw. He quit.

But Faulkner argues that even as a builder he could not avoid the EU interfering with his life: "I did have six people working for me, but I got rid of them as the EU got too involved in their holiday pay and sick pay."

He argues that the social chapter, working time directive and minimum wage – which is actually a piece of UK rather than EU legislation – all made his costs unsupportable.