Tory victory welcomed, but concerns surface that industry champion role will be cut as cost saving measure
The industry has made retaining the role of chief construction adviser its number one priority for the new Conservative government elected last week, amid fears the role could be scrapped.
The contract of the current chief construction adviser Peter Hansford (pictured, on left) is due to expire in November, while chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce severe budget cuts before the year’s end, putting pressure on departments to save money.
Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council (CIC), said he was concerned that the post might be scrapped as part of a cost-cutting measure.
“The post is theoretically up for review with Peter’s contract expiring in November. If the industry is to rally around any one thing then it should be maintaining this role.
“The role is absolutely fundamental, and with previous cuts to the departments there aren’t civil servants in place to drive [construction’s] agenda forward,” he said. “We shouldn’t risk this happening by default.”
Watts added that with the departure of Francis Maude from the Cabinet Office, who backed the 2011 Construction Strategy, there were also concerns over whether the construction agenda would be continued.
Rudi Klein, director of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, said that while he wanted greater clarity over the chief construction adviser’s role, it was important that it continued.
“The government is saying by 2018 that it wants to reduce the deficit completely and we are concerned about whether or not they will continue with the role,” he said.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner said there was “no disguising the fact that the government will continue to make cuts” but that he strongly believed the role should not be scrapped.
While there is not known to be a specific plan to cut the post, sources close to the government said the role was likely to be at risk because of the need for such big savings, and the fact the current contract will come to a natural end unless it is specifically extended.
The government will need to cull 400,000 public sector staff and make cuts of 13% in the budgets of unprotected government departments over the course of the parliament to meet its debt reduction targets, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Former chief construction adviser Paul Morrell said he had no knowledge of whether the role was likely to be cut, but added: “The industry needs a focal point to reach across departments, and with the hard and soft skills to generate the energy to keep the construction strategy on track. If you took the role away you’d have to recreate that in another way.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “[The current chief construction adviser’s] contract runs until November and that’s all we have to say on the matter at this time”.
In general the construction industry has welcomed the expected continuity on certain key areas of development policy with the continuation of a Conservative government under David Cameron, particularly on planning and infrastructure policy.
However, some industry experts urged the government to redouble its efforts to address the UK’s housing crisis. The RICS described Britain’s long-term supply-side crisis as a “national emergency” and urged the government to make solving it a priority.