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Contractors have been let down by George Osborne

The overriding feeling after listening to George Osborne’s Budget speech and trawling through the accompanying documents is one of disappointment.

The industry had its ears cocked for details of exciting projects that would be joining the Northern Line Extension and Drax power station as likely recipients of a government UK Guarantee - but heard nothing concrete. A few examples of the types of schemes that are under consideration - nothing Construction News hadn’t reported before.

Meanwhile the widely trailed additional £3 billion of infrastructure funding that Mr Osborne announced doesn’t kick in until 2015 - too late for the kind of growth-boosting activity that the industry was hoping for.

A lot of the detail has been pushed out until the Spending Review in June: no mention of Private Finance 2, no mention of the Green Deal.

Plans for two carbon capture and storage plants, but no more certainty on the timetable for Hinkley Point, let alone the finance model.

It’s not all a let down - housebuilders are welcoming the two-fold ‘Help to Buy’, which addresses long-made complaints that lack of mortgage finance is one of the major blocks on growth.

The chancellor’s announcement extends equity loans of up to 20 per cent to all new home buyers who have a deposit of at least 5 per cent (not just first timers) and offers others with a 5 per cent deposit the option to buy either an old or new home if they can afford the mortgage on it, while the government provides a mortgage guarantee.

They’re also delighted with more than £1bn to boost the private rented sector and affordable housing - tangible funds they can bid for straight away.

If the schemes work, and are taken up quickly, they could start to make a significant difference, opening up the market to potential buyers on every rung of the housing level, and freeing up developers to spend more of their cash on new land and developments than paying in an equity stake themselves (as is the case with the current scheme).

What’s more, the benefits to the supply chain, to product manufacturers and to local economies can all share this boost - potentially more widely across the country than at present too.

But, as always, it depends on the detail - notably the speed with which lenders will sign up to the schemes and the interest rates they will offer on it.

Small businesses this afternoon welcomed the first £2,000 National Insurance exemption, as well as the cancellation of the fuel duty rise planned for September.

The chancellor mentioned he wanted to extend Funding for Lending, but not how or when.

The industry had got its hopes up - or at least knew this was the chancellor’s last opportunity to do something to boost growth via construction in the immediate term.

The ‘Help to Buy’ announcements may well give the government some nice - and perfectly timed - statistics to promote in the run up to the general election in 2013.

But for infrastructure, at least this side of the election, it’s largely: what you see now is what you get.

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