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Election pain for long-term gain?

As Theresa May today revealed plans for a snap general election, I could hear the collective groans … and that was just from our news desk. 

While political journalists are salivating at the prospect, the majority of the electorate will likely be shuddering at the thought of having to yet again trek to the polling station.

It will be the fourth time in three years that the UK is facing some form of election or referendum. The general mood was perhaps best summed up by this woman from Bristol.

For the construction industry, the feeling of frustration is likely to be similar.

After the upheaval of the vote to leave the EU and the uncertainty it has caused, a general election is the last thing that businesses will be wanting to think about.

With so much major infrastructure on the books – not least HS2 and Hinkley Point C – more political uncertainty is worrying. There is also the trickle-down effect this has on wider investment decisions across the sector.

Added to this are the concerns the industry has over a skills shortage, which has become more pressing in light of the doubts hanging over the rights of EU workers until Brexit is negotiated. 

Elsewhere, there could be upheaval in having to deal with different senior political personnel. For example, housing minister Gavin Barwell has a wafer-thin majority in his constituency of Croydon Central.

Mr Barwell, don’t forget, is the fifth housing minister the industry has dealt with in the last five years, and is a popular one at that.

Meanwhile shares in major construction firms such as Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Skanska are down slightly today, following the trend of the overall FTSE 100 index.

But thankfully, with polling day less than two months away, the uncertainty should – in theory – be relatively short-lived.

The timing of the election is also in the industry’s favour.

Summer is generally a quieter time, so the disruption should be minimal. Although, as the CPA’s Noble Francis told Construction News, there could be a hiatus in the signing of public sector contracts in the build up to the election.

With the Conservatives big odds-on favourites (around 1/5 to secure a majority with most bookies) to remain in power, June’s election should be a bump in the road. For supporters of the current government, it could be short-term pain for long-term gain. 

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn remains in disarray (a YouGov poll yesterday had Labour on 23 per cent, 21 points behind the Conservatives) and, with mere weeks to get its house in order, that is unlikely to be enough time to fix its deep-seated problems.

But as Brexit and Trump proved last year, anything is possible in this new political age. We have come to expect the unexpected.

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