Construction bodies react angrily to government reshuffle as it prepares for its fifth minister in as many years
Industry leaders have attacked the government after last week's reshuffle left the industry with its fifth construction minister in five years.
Construction minister Alun Michael was axed in last week's emergency reshuffle, called after the government's disastrous performance in Thursday's local elections.
Michael, who took on the junior ministerial role last year, will return to the backbenches. He will be replaced as minister for industry
and the regions by Margaret Hodge, who gained adverse headlines during the local elections by predicting a high turnout for the British National Party.
The change has dismayed many in the industry who are concerned about the lack of consistent ministerial oversight of the construction industry since 2001. Hodge's appointment follows the tenures of Michael, Nigel Griffiths, Brian Wilson and Nick Raynsford.
Graham Watts, the Construction Industry Council's chief executive, said: "It's very frustrating. It takes a year to get a minister up to speed and then you've got to start from square one again. It's no way to run a company, let alone a country."
Watts added that Michael's departure from the post had come as a surprise. He said: "It makes me even more pleased that we've got Nick Raynsford as CIC deputy chairman, so we have someone in parliament permanently."
Michael officially resigned from the post last Friday, although it is understood that his departure was not planned and was a shock to colleagues as well as the industry.
Peter Commins, chairman of the Construction Confederation, said: "It's sad because we were just forming a relationship with Alun Michael and he was beginning to understand some of the issues we were worried about."
It’s no way to run a company, let alone a country
Graham Watts, CIC
The size of Hodge's portfolio is also causing the industry concern. Like Michael before her, she has to cover 40 other industries including telecoms, aerospace and e-commerce, a situation that led to accusations that Michael only had seven-and-a-half minutes a day to devote to construction. Michael also did not take a strong lead on key issues such as PFI and the CIS tax scheme, which some felt reflected his distance from the industry.
Commins said: "That will be an issue in terms of how much time she will be able to give to construction."
He added that he hoped Hodge would continue the quarterly meetings with the industry.
Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, said the loss of Michael and environment minister Elliot Morley, as well as the changes at the ODPM, would add to the instability of relations between government and the industry.
He said: "It's very unfortunate that so many ministers who are important to our industry have changed at the same time. It leaves a period of uncertainty when there are some key policy areas such as Building Regulations where the government needs to give a very strong steer."
As well as familiarising herself with the construction, Hodge will also face the challenge of redeeming her image after she was caught up in a row over votes for the BNP prior to last week's election.
Hodge was accused of boosting the far-right party's campaign by claiming that eight out of 10 white Barking voters were considering voting for the BNP.
She defended herself by claiming that white voters in her Barking and Dagenham constituency in east London felt alienated by an influx of ethnic minority residents.
The ministerial merry-go-round
Alistair Darling secretary of state (from Department for Transport)
Margaret Hodge industry minister and construction minister
Malcolm Wicks energy minister
Lord Sainsbury science and technology minister
Alun Michael industry minister, now returning to back benches
Department for Communities and Local Government (replaces ODPM)
Ruth Kelly secretary of state (from DfES)
Angela E Smith Building Regulations
Phil Woolas minister of state for local government
Yvette Cooper minister for housing and planning
John Prescott now minister without portfolio
David Miliband communities minister, now Defra secretary of state
Defra (reorganisation not finalised as Building went to press)
David Miliband secretary of state, responsible for sustainability
Ian Pearson environment minister (from DTI)
Elliot Morley was responsible for sustainability, now left government
Stephen Timms chief secretary to the Treasury, responsible for public spending and the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007
John Healey financial secretary, responsible for tax issues
Ed Balls economic secretary