If anyone was in any doubt that infrastructure development is increasingly been seen as a crucial way to revitalise the economy and boost skills, then the three main parties’ general election manifestos should dispel those doubts.
To varying degrees, the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos made commitments to spend more on infrastructure and the public spending pledges of the three main parties should be of interest to the construction sector as much of this promised cash will impact on infrastructure spending. The Conservatives restrained programme pledges to just £2.9bn extra a year by the end of the next parliament, whereas Labour promises an extra £83bn a year and the Liberal Democrats plan to spend an extra £50bn a year over the same period.
On housing, Labour’s proposals are by far the most eye-catching with a pledge to build one million social houses within a decade and build 150,000 council and social homes annually, with 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent. Not to be outdone, the Lib Dems say they will build at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year and ensure that total housebuilding increases to 300,000 each year should they be victorious on 12 December. The Tories meanwhile say they will build at least one million new homes within the next five years.
Construction organisations welcomed the manifesto commitments as a long overdue vote of confidence in the industry though some reiterated long standing concerns about skills shortages which need to be tackled urgently to ensure that the sector is capable of delivering the infrastructure revolution which many of the election proposals amount to.
Gareth Wilson, partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, said: “If Labour’s eye-catching fiscal pledges can be backed up by equally substantial detail on delivery and implementation then the industry is in for a jolt. Some will see this as a turbo-charged version of what Blair and Brown did on public spending – if Corbyn and McDonnell have a chance to deliver this manifesto then buckle up. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, commented: “The construction industry must not face a 'cliff edge' when it comes to skilled migrant labour, if we are to meet our house building and infrastructure targets. The Conservative Party must therefore ensure that their Australian-style points-based system incorporates priority occupations and reflects the needs of businesses. The industry still relies on skilled labour from the EU and will continue to do so until we encourage more young people into construction and train more of our domestic workforce.”
The positioning of infrastructure as a key election issue is to be welcomed. The task going forward is for the industry to press home the importance of the sector with all politicians during what remains of the campaign and then again with the new government to ensure that their promises become a reality ensuring that the nation gets the infrastructure development it badly needs and we have a dynamic and fully-skilled industry capable of delivering it.