ith the election now behind us, the UK finds itself, once again, in a certain and stable political world of a single party government with a large majority. The political crisis and uncertainty of the last few years has been consigned to the past as the Johnson administration now has the muscle and political will to implement a full programme for government. What exactly that will look like will become a bit clearer on Thursday, when the second Queen’s speech of the year is presented to the new parliament.
Some priorities, however, are already starting to take shape by the nature of the victory itself. No one can now be in any doubt that the UK will leave the European Union on the 31 January 2020. The central appeal of the Prime Minister at this election was to “get Brexit done” and with his new shiny eighty seat majority, there is little that the opposition parties could do to stop him, even if they were not themselves struggling to deal with the scale of their defeat.
Investment in the north of England will now be central to the government’s policymaking. With a huge number of Conservative gains in seats normally hostile to the party, voters who ‘leant’ the government support will be expecting something to be done to redress the UKs economic imbalance. Johnson will have to be seen to be delivering for these voters if he wishes to retain these newly won seats in 2024.
Alongside the north of England, Scotland will also rise-up the political agenda. With Scottish voters yet again using the election to make clear their views against Brexit and for the SNP who, of course, want a second independence referendum, the Prime Minister will need to find a way to win over the hearts and minds of the majority in Scotland. Should he fail to do this, he may well find himself the last Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Finally, the government will need to put some meat on the bones of its policy to achieve net zero by 2050, especially as the world will arrive in Glasgow in a little under a year for COP 26 where more than fine words will be needed for the UK to maintain its position as a world leader on climate change.
All of this is good news for our industry as investment in our infrastructure networks will be needed to meet these political goals. The Conservatives have pledged £100 billion of new investment over the next few years with transport and housing leading the way, but more will need to be done.
HS2 will need to be approved and built. Given concerns over Scotland, we may well see the return of the link with Glasgow to ensure the project is not seen as just an English venture. Furthermore, Northern Powerhouse Rail may follow and promise improvements for the north of England.
A new integrated transport strategy will be needed if we are to reduce our carbon emissions as currently road transport accounts for 30% of the total, with cars and HGVs contributions over 90% of those emissions. However, we will need to look across all of our infrastructure to see where progress can be made, for example new connections with our ports will be needed if we are to provide shore to ship power to cut emissions whilst ships are borne in port. Our energy grid will need to be updated and expanded if it is to be able to meet this increased demand as we move away from fossil fuels towards sustainable alternatives.
To help make progress on the housing crisis, the way in which we develop our towns and cities will need to change with placemaking becoming far more important than it has ever been. Brownfield development and increased social housing will also have to play a part.
The future looks bright for our industry, but only if we can be seen to be providing solutions to the issues the country faces and can embrace the government’s agenda to become an honest friend who provides constructive answers, rather than merely complaining. 2020 is the year to press on and unlock the pipeline of work that both our industry, and the country, needs to be delivered.
Julian Francis is Director of External Affairs at ACE.