Building sector reacts to prime minister’s announcement

Theresa May has called a snap general election for Thursday 8 June, with the construction industry hoping to see its contribution to the UK recognised in the debates to come.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after a meeting of her Cabinet, the prime minister told reporters that she had delivered the stability the country needed and an election was needed now because other parties were objecting to the government’s plans for Brexit.

She said the UK “needed certainty, stability and strong leadership following the EU referendum”.

May told reporters that she was not prepared to allow her opponents to jeopardise the Brexit negotiations, and that if there was not an election now, game-playing will continue.

General elections had been fixed on a five-year cycle by the previous David Cameron-led coalition. However if a resolution to hold an earlier vote is approved by MPs by a two-thirds majority it can go ahead.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed he will be supporting tomorrow’s vote in the House of Commons to hold the election on 8 June.

Commenting on the vote news, Mark Farmer, author of the government-commissioned Farmer Review of the UK’s skills shortage and chief executive of Cast Consultancy, said: “Whatever the outcome of this election, the construction skills gap will remain as will the impact of Brexit.

“In the campaign to come, I hope to see some serious solutions on offer as part of the main parties’ manifestos that adequately reflect the importance of the construction industry’s welfare and future modernisation as part of its contribution to UK plc.

“We need to also preferably see a reasonable level of cross party consensus on a coherent and comprehensive skills and innovation agenda that is not interrupted by endless political turmoil.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said the general election “would create some short-term uncertainty at a time when it’s critical to maintain business and investor confidence. It should, however, provide the next government with a clear mandate to negotiate our future relationship with the EU and deliver the UK’s long-term economic health.

“Real estate is a willing partner for government through this period as it delivers its industrial strategy and we have five key messages: work with us to maintain investor confidence in the UK and to drive growth; provide fair, competitive and stable tax, regulatory and planning systems; invest in infrastructure and free up public sector land; help us to address the skills shortage in our industry; and support more housing supply across all tenures.”

Lewis Johnston, RICS Parliamentary and Public Affairs manager the motivation for calling an election was clear. “With a working majority of just 17, the Government’s freedom of action is restrained and understandably the Prime Minister wants a stronger mandate as she embarks on the EU Exit Negotiations.

“The real question is how the economy will react to yet another political rollercoaster ride. Since the EU referendum last summer, our market surveys across the residential, commercial and construction sectors show we have largely moved on from initial negative reactions but uncertainty continues to cloud the outlook and weigh on market sentiment.”

Today’s decision did “very little to change that prognosis in the near term, and if anything we are likely to see continuing deferral of major investment and hiring plans”, he added.

Johnston said that while Theresa May’s stated intention was to provide greater clarity and stability by calling a general election, “in the immediate term the move inevitably puts a question mark over policy and creates further uncertainty across the built environment.

And the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba), Jane Duncan said it would be important to hear that the next government “will seek to obtain the best deal from the Brexit negotiations, providing business certainty in the short, medium and long-term, opening new opportunities worldwide and ensuring that we can still access top talent through the continuation of a mutual recognition of professional qualifications and agreements with the EU.

“Amidst the challenges of Brexit, we need to also ensure that big domestic issues are not neglected. We need innovative designs and smarter procurement approaches to solving the desperate housing crisis, renewing and expanding our schools and ensuring that we have a sustainable environment that works across the UK. 

“Investment in vital national infrastructure and successful devolution to regional and local communities is needed to support the creation of new jobs and the local improvements that they will create,” she added.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said businesses would be looking to each political party set out their plans “to support economic stability and prosperity over the next Parliament in a way that is fair and sustainable for communities across the UK.

“As EU negotiations now get underway, firms are clear about the serious risks of failing to secure a deal and falling into World Trade Organisation rules. Whoever forms the next government, they should seek to build a partnership between business and government that is the best in the world, based on trust and shared interest,” she added.

More to follow…