Ian Lucas’ support comes as construction adviser outlines strategy at Building’s parliamentary reception
The shadow construction minister has backed the government’s plan to cut up to 20% off the costs of building, and admitted that the industry “could have done better” in providing value for money during his party’s years in power.
However, Ian Lucas, construction minister from June 2009 until Labour’s general election defeat in May last year, questioned whether the industry could change while public sector spending was being slashed.
His comments came as chief construction adviser Paul Morrell used his speech at Building’s annual parliamentary reception on Monday to defend the strategy.
Morrell said: “People have accused the strategy of having nothing new in it. I’m actually proud of this. The thinking has already been done, this is not the time to point everyone in a whole new direction. It’s about there being tough times and now we have to listen to it.”
Morrell’s report, launched two weeks ago, advocates greater integration between companies, more standardisation, cost benchmarks for public work and the use of building information modelling on all government projects over the next five years.
Lucas, who was appointed shadow construction minister last week, welcomed Morrell’s recommendations.
“It’s an excellent report,” the Wrexham MP said. “The industry accepts it could have done better over the past 10-15 years, in terms of providing value for money. I have a huge amount of respect for Paul Morrell.”
Lucas said there was “no reason why standardisation should reduce quality” and agreed that the government should focus more closely on the long-term running costs of buildings.
But he added that this would be more difficult during a period of “short-term cuts”. “I think it’s very difficult to do that while the work is being cut back,” he said.
“There’s a real danger that the government restrictions on capital spending are having a damaging effect on the industry.”
Lucas takes over in the shadow role from Gordon Banks MP, who resigned a month ago because it took up too much of his constituency time.
Asked why he had not retained the construction brief after Labour’s defeat, Lucas said he had been closely involved with the industry since then.
“I was working closely with Gordon Banks in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills team,” he said. “I have attended a number of construction groups.”
Former Labour construction minister Nick Raynsford, who also spoke at the event, said: “I very much welcome the report. Without optimism and fantasy, it’s what we can achieve.”