More uncertainty looms - as Brexit debate set to dominate 8 June election
What does calling a snap general election mean for the building sector? And where do the political parties stand when it comes to offering policies that will boost the sector’s prospects?
Crucially, in what is being billed as a general election hanging on the hook of Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU potentially throws the industry’s ability to recruit workers who are non-UK EU citizens into turmoil.
The possibility that such a workforce will be denied access to the UK has already sent shudders through the construction sector, reliant as much of it is on migrants from the EU. The industry has called on the government to avoid a ‘self-inflicted skills crisis’.
That said, the government is convinced that Brexit can work. In her statement outside 10 Downing Street this week the prime minister said there could be no turning back from the outcome of last year’s EU referendum.
“As we look to the future, the government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe. Our opponents believe that because the government’s majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.
“They are wrong. They underestimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.”
Opposition parties will be setting out their stalls on what they hope a post-general election UK might look like. The Labour Party’s leadership has been lukewarm on reversing Brexit, while Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron said the only way to avoid a hard and damaging Brexit was to vote for his party.
The Tories have signalled a number of huge infrastructure projects since the last election which have been welcomed by the industry, including HS2. The government has also signalled a renewed enthusiasm for developing and building free schools. Its approach to housing has met with a mixed reaction, however, with the white paper, while a step in the right direction, being deemed a missed opportunity.
And several commentators have noted that the government’s apprenticeship strategy is too target-focused and that such an approach could have serious implications for the quality of courses and eventual trainees emerging from the system.
What the industry wants is certainty, yet what it will get in the short term at least is going to be anything but that. If, as the polls suggest, the Conservatives win the 8 June election with an improved majority, they will be able to enact policies, including those affecting development, with more confidence - and greater ease. Despite that poll confidence May is still taking a political risk. But her advisers will have taken the view it is a risk worth taking.
Opinion polls suggest the Conservatives have an 18 or so point lead over Labour. May has opted to go to the country now in order - she hopes - to strengthen her hand in what doubtless be a tough set of negotiations as the UK seeks to leave the EU, and as a mandate that she can reflect back to the domestic electorate.
First, she has to win the general election. Assuming she succeeds, how her EU negotiations go and the effect such talks have on the construction sector’s fortunes remain to be seen.
Main parties’ likely pitches to construction
- Commitment to HS2, Heathrow third runway and next gen nuclear plants
- Build 500 new ‘free schools’ by 2020
- £2bn-funded Accelerated Construction Scheme to make public land with planning permission available to builders
- £3bn (of previously announced money) for loans to chivvy along cash-strapped housing projects
- Apprenticeship scheme to create three million places by 2020
- Increase public borrowing to fund large-scale infrastructure projects
- Build a million homes in first five years of coming to power, incl. 500,000 council homes, funded by a £500bn investment plan
- End ‘right-to-buy’ and re-introduce regional house building targets
- Introduce rent controls and longer tenancies; clamp down on errant private landlords
- Remove local borrowing cap, allowing councils to borrow against housing stock; resulting building programme would see 12,000 new council houses built annually
- Build 300,000 new houses a year
- Create a Housing Investment Bank to generate funds for new homes and a British Infrastructure Development Bank to fund “the infrastructure of the future”
- Measures to protect tenants and tackle rogue landlords
- Rapid transition to electric vehicles
- Overall £20bn investment in infrastructure projects
- £3bn affordable housing programme, building 50,000 units, with 35,000 for social rent
- Extend Borders railway route, plus other rail and road improvements
- Continue North Sea oil production, while overseeing decommissioning where necessary