The devolved, local and mayoral elections taking place on Thursday 6 May are often overlooked by the construction sector, but the results do matter to the sector, says ACE's Matthew Farrow.
Lacking the era-defining appeal of general elections, regional and local elections are the Cinderellas of democratic politics in the UK. Even in devolved nations, voter turnout hovers around 50%, compared to 70% for general elections.
Yet the upcoming round of elections in Scotland, Wales, London and parts of England on 6 May do matter. For Scotland and Wales, it will set a political direction as the countries grapple with the post-Covid and post-Brexit agendas and current strains within the union. The mayoral elections in England in particular will affect how different regions look to ‘level-up’ to revive their urban economies, while addressing the longer-term challenge of net zero.
For the construction sector and for ACE members, there are important issues at stake and decisions which can create opportunities as we aim to kickstart recovery. Initiatives such as the CLC’s CO2nstruct Zero, and other sector-led decarbonisation plans, demonstrate that the private sector is determined to play its part in our net zero transition. The public sector now needs to respond, and this is especially true at regional level where some of the hardest decisions about the role of hydrogen, installation of heat networks, and low carbon transport options need to be made.
The Scottish and Welsh governments, as well as the mayoral authorities, have significant responsibilities for transport investment. However, there is some debate as to whether the institutional capability is always there for effective and strategic delivery. For example, the Welsh government’s recent transport strategy was strong on urban mobility but had little to say about strategic connectivity between economic centres. Meanwhile, the new national investment bank in Scotland remains unproven.
In the English regions, it is vital that local authorities show they can work effectively with the new infrastructure bank to blend public and private capital into regeneration schemes. London’s next mayor also has the unenviable task of reviving a Transport for London funding model which has been ravaged by the pandemic.
Those elected will need to move beyond slogans such as ‘Build Back Better’ and create a workable plan for getting the right mix of local, social and commercial infrastructure that will give new life to our urban centres and wider communities. While some of the problems – loss of footfall in high streets, for example – are common, other issues such as transport connectivity or housing supply will vary by location.
With the elections just a week away, we want to focus minds on these challenges and the vital role our industry can play. As such, the chairs of ACE’s regional and devolved groups are writing open letters, addressed to all candidates, setting out the priorities for the next administration in terms of built environment policy.
Rest assured that once the political dust has settled, we will follow-up with the new leaders and administrations on behalf of our members, making the very clear case that our members are the natural delivery partners of choice for all those elected on Thursday 6 May.
Matthew Farrow is director of policy at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.