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What the construction industry needs from Boris

Many in the UK’s construction industry will have breathed a sigh of relief after the election. The uncertainty surrounding the UK’s leadership and its exit from the European Union has been enough to delay investment in infrastructure and threaten the future pipeline of projects. Data shows output has slowed down and both the private and public sectors have pursued fewer projects. The construction industry is at a crucial juncture – and it needs more than stability.

Jean Monnet Luxembourg

Here are the four things Boris must deliver for the construction industry.

To deliver on his pre-election promises.

There was no shortage of infrastructure promises during the election campaign, however, in the Queen’s speech Boris promised to “implement the biggest infrastructure revolution in living memory.” A good place to start would be seeing through the promises already made pre-election. This includes the £100bn “infrastructure revolution” promised for road and rail and even the mega-investment into projects like the “Boris Bridges.”

There were also key promises made towards the NHS. The government has already pledged £2.7bn to build six new hospitals across England, but 40 in total have been promised in the next 10 years. The previous Conservative chancellor scrapped PFI, so isn’t clear what model this is being done under, nonetheless it was one of the most repeated promises in the campaign and should be seen through. Resolutions will also be needed for Heathrow Airport, where he once promised to lie down in front of the bulldozers, and the railways Hs2 and Crossrail, projects the PM has recently cast serious doubt over. 

No cap on construction workers

The phrase ‘Australian-style’ points system reportedly performed well with electoral focus groups, but it’s difficult to see how it could work at all in construction. An exception for the industry is a necessity. Construction and migration have always been strongly linked and large construction sites tend to require a number of workers that local labour markets can rarely supply. Migration benefits both sides, as workers themselves must often move on to find work after completing a project too.

The prime minister must guarantee key worker status criteria to tradespeople from the EU. These workers are essential to delivering the promised projects and achieving a freedom of movement policy that supports them should be an absolute priority.   

300,000 houses per annum

The National Audit Office says the previous government failed to build any of 200,000 starter homes promised in 2015, despite election pledges to do so by the mid-2020s. The statutory framework for Starter Homes in the Housing and Planning Act, received Royal Assent back in 2016, but the £2.3billion budget has since been moved elsewhere.

The election result can offer the one thing the property market demands: certainty. The Conservatives must return to housebuilding. Boris has also promised to support the use of modern methods of construction. This is crucial, technology can keep costs down and increase productivity, government data shows that even growing productivity by 0.25% a year for 10 years, would add £56bn to UK GDP.  

Clampdown on late payments

Late payments are harmful to both small and large businesses, but in construction the issue is particularly important. Contractors must have money coming in to pay suppliers and subcontractors in the day to day running of the site. Bigger businesses with poor payment practices towards these can cause huge disruption to the pipeline. FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said that late payments and poor practices lead “to the closure of 50,000 small businesses a year.”

Strengthening the power of the Small Business Commissioner, an independent public body set up in 2016, will help tackle this issue. Carillion’s cash flow was famously very low, and it led to their liquidation in January 2018, with £7bn of liabilities and just £29m left in the bank.

Get a deal

Five major construction trade bodies, Build UK, CECA, the CPA, the FMB and the Association for Consultancy and Engineering wrote to Boris to warn him a no-deal Brexit could cost construction £12bn. A deal is essential to safeguard the future of the industry.

Ibrahim Imam

Ibrahim Imam is the founder of PlanRadar, is a cloud-based app for documentation and communication to help project managers, site managers, construction workers and inspectors communicate through tech on-site. The company now operates in 43 countries globally and has over 5,000 customers, following its launch into the UK market in 2019. The tech is said to save the average construction worker seven working hours per week and offer an ROI to companies of up to 70%.