When Labour introduced the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, hopes were high that construction would finally have a loud voice in government. Yet, eight years on, the DETR is no more and the industry has little or no representation at the highest levels of government. An industry that accounts for about 10% of the UK’s GDP, and which will be expected to deliver much of the next government’s agenda, has been spread across 13 departments and is championed by a single junior minister.
The party lines
Labour - Nigel Griffiths, last construction minister
Until the industry distils its 170-plus voices, and the civils are civil to the mechanicals and the mechanicals get their co-operative mechanisms working, the industry is not in the best position to ask for a unified voice or department within government. Construction is going to win us the election – that’s why it’s important that the NHS and Ministry of Defence both get the best out of the sector. Pulling the industry together under one heading has defied every government since the war, as the sector forms such a massive part of each department’s responsibilities. In an ideal world, we might find a government that could do it, but none has. The reach of industry across all departments is so wide that the ideal world we all aspire to is still an aspiration.
Edward Staite, spokesperson for the Conservative party
Many departments make decisions and act in ways that impact on the construction sector. However, we do not believe that creating a new department catering specifically for the built environment is the answer. That would involve more bureaucracy, and we have pledged to cut Labour’s bloated state sector. Each department should be clear about its role and be able to carry it out efficiently and with transparency. For example, DEFRA should use its expertise to co-ordinate efforts to improve energy efficiency and work towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as part of the UK’s energy policy. The drive for energy efficiency could not be undertaken with the same determination elsewhere.
Central to our position at this election is our commitment to providing value for money. That is why we want to avoid creating government departments.
Edward Davey, shadow ODPM spokesperson, Liberal Democrat party
We share your concern that Whitehall structures and bureaucracy can complicate relationships between business and government. The Liberal Democrats would reform and streamline departments, reducing overlaps and conflicts. Abolishing the DTI, but putting a minister for business into the Cabinet would mean the needs of business would feed more easily into government policy.
We would bring forward a series of policies to help the construction industry. We would harmonise VAT across all construction work, ending the perverse incentive for building on green fields and helping beat the blight of empty and unfit buildings. We would upgrade the Building Regulations to increase the energy efficiency of our buildings, with a target of 1 million extra sustainable homes by 2010.
Why we need a powerful voice in government
Peter Rogers, chairman of the Strategic Forum and director of Stanhope
We have a very enthusiastic construction minister – but the problem is he is in a very junior position in a department that doesn’t think that construction is very important. Different parts of the industry are chopped up between different departments. What we need is a very senior minister who is responsible for driving the construction agenda forward.
John Dodds, chief executive, Kier Group
Representation at senior government level lacks direction, which needs addressing now. The weak and disjointed approach we have now cannot deliver our all-important messages to the right audience. We urgently need a strong voice to represent us at every level.
Steve Hindley, chief executive, Midas
As construction consists of about 10% of the economy it certainly needs a more powerful voice in government. I would love for there to be a single department to be created from which all construction work can be procured. The Procure21 model could be replicated, because at the moment everybody is doing different things.
George Ferguson, president, RIBA
While we don’t think that putting the entire built environment in one ministry is structurally possible, there needs to be much more joined-up processes across government.
Chris Blythe, chief executive, Chartered Institute of Building
We would like to see the government approach industry with a much clearer mind. Construction is one of the most important industries in the country now that the motor industry has gone for a Burton. We would like to see a more strategic, cohesive approach. Otherwise there is a worry that the government’s “programme of change” could turn out to be all talk.
Chris Wise, director, Expedition Engineering
A single department would be really good, about bloody time. It would be able to bash the heads of the many vested interests together rather than divvying up the pot into ever diminishing chunks. Because they are all laws unto themselves nothing ever gets done. A department of construction would be too small on its own so it should be a department of construction and manufacturing.
Sir Michael Latham, chairman, CITB-ConstructionSkills
There is an overwhelming need for a Department for the Built Environment dealing with all aspects of construction, including transport. It is, after all, only a few years since we last had one. The present situation is ludicrously fragmented.
Innovative financial mechanisms and considerable commitment to the delivery of programmes will need to be introduced if we are to see any direct effect on our sector in a new government’s first year of office. We shall wait and see.
Rick Willmott, chief executive officer, Willmott Dixon
What the construction industry deserves is a voice at Cabinet level, one that can champion the important issues of partnering and best practice in the public sector.