Industry

16 DEC 2019

CAN THE TORIES DELIVER ON INFRASTRUCTURE?

With a new government in place with a fresh mandate for its plans, what can the construction and infrastructure sector expect in 2020? Andy Walker reports.

There will be many in the construction industry who will be hoping that the UK general election result will usher in a period of certainty and greater investment in infrastructure. The Conservative’s manifesto and the words of its leading spokespersons during the campaign would certainly lead you to believe that infrastructure spending is going to rapidly increase so the focus will now be on how soon the government will deliver on its promises.

Reacting to Boris Johnson’s general election win, ACE chief executive Hannah Vickers said: “The majority returned for the Conservatives has finally broken the deadlock in Westminster and will allow government to act decisively on Brexit and other issues. 

“Our members will be delighted to see progress on the withdrawal agreement and future trading relationship, equally they will also want to see a return to ‘business as usual’ with progress on HS2 and support for new projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail and investment in an ambitious social infrastructure programme to improve schools and hospitals. 

“It will also ensure a continuing commitment to the industrial strategy and the opportunity to expand the Construction Sector Deal to deliver for consultancy businesses. We look forward to working closely with the government on helping to make their pledges on housing and vision for a net zero society a reality.”

"Our members will want to see a return to 'business as usual' with progress on HS2 and support for new projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail and investment in an ambitious social infrastructure programme to improve schools and hospitals."

Hannah Vickers, ACE chief executive

It is clear that the industry expects the new government to deliver on its pledges and also take action on pressing issues like climate change. Richard Robinson, CEO of Atkins UK and Europe, said: “Atkins is looking forward to supporting the new Conservative government as it delivers the infrastructure needed to drive economic growth across the UK and set us on a path to a net zero future.”

Mark Robinson, chief executive of public procurement specialists Scape Group, said: “Voters gave a clear signal, get Brexit done, and for the first time in a decade the ruling party has a clear mandate to deliver. With the possibility of another referendum now out of the question, we need clarity on the terms we will be exiting under on the 31st of January - and quickly. 

“Boris Johnson has been given the seats to deliver on key election pledges and MPs must hold him to account on delivering these - the £100bn of additional funding for infrastructure needs to be mapped out based on priorities and deliverability. Availability of labour is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed if we are to deliver on the big-ticket pledges we heard on the campaign trail.”

Civils contractors called on the new Conservative government to “turbo-charge” the infrastructure sector in its first 100 days in office. Chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Alasdair Reisner, said: “Mr Johnson should use his first 100 days to turbo-charge the infrastructure sector by committing to schemes that have been delayed by the election or have had doubt thrown on their future. Subject to the findings of the Oakervee review, we would like to see the new government make a firm commitment to HS2 and progress this transformative project towards delivery.”

Simon Rawlinson, head of strategic research at Arcadis, said: “We know that the government has a budget in draft and we look forward to its publication at the earliest opportunity, particularly announcements on the National Infrastructure Strategy, Road Investment Strategy 2 and with these, much greater clarity on the commitment to an £80bn investment boost. Furthermore, government should act as quickly as possible to finalise decisions on outstanding programmes like HS2 so that the supply chain can plan with greater certainty.”

David Whysall, managing director of UK infrastructure at Turner & Townsend, said that the industry needed certainty to gear up to deliver the government’s ambitious infrastructure plans. “As we start 2020, there is now political consensus that investment in infrastructure delivers economic and social progression whilst also being a critical enabler for the net zero carbon agenda. This has resulted in a strong pipeline, but we need to see the potential realised. The industry will not gear itself up to deliver the infrastructure programmes talked about without greater certainty around when and where the investment will take place.”

"The industry will not gear itself up to deliver the infrastructure programmes talked about without greater certainty around when and where the investment will take place."

David Whysall, UK infrastructure managing director, Turner & Townsend

The construction industry will be hoping that the election result will prompt a spike in business optimism, which can only be of benefit to the industry as the public and private sector cautiously look to push forward with projects. The first couple of months of 2020 are likely to be crucial, as the decisions the new government takes will be vital to maintaining confidence in the sector. 

A key challenge will be making Brexit economically advantageous for the UK economy and the construction businesses that work in it and this will be especially the case in the north, where the government has gained so much new found support as a result of its promises to invest and renew. The new prime minister will be under some pressure to deliver over the coming months.

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