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Industry getting its day in the sun

Let’s pinch ourselves, shall we? It seems to have happened by stealth but we’re in the midst of one of the most exciting times for construction in decades.

That was clear at the Construction News Summit and underscored subsequently with the prime minister and chancellor throwing their weight behind new high-speed rail lines to help regenerate the North.

Amid short-term turmoil in the form of profit warnings - the latest of which came from Morgan Sindall this week - it’s not always easy to step back and see the bigger picture.

But the programme of infrastructure and activity laid out in front of us is nothing short of a new Victorian era of grand engineering.

Whitehall spies sexy card

Having clamoured for the attention of politicians for years, the sector now has MPs and minsters doting on it.

“Will politicians be brave enough to cut back current spending to fund capital spending?”

The Cabinet Office is asking firms to tweet selfies re-building Britain; ministers it seems love construction and are desperate to be seen on site wearing a hard hat.

Even the Lords held a debate about the state of the industry last week.

Clearly, politicians see infrastructure as a sexy card to play coming into the next election.

Political divide?

Though there may be a great deal of faux rows, much of it is posturing; the reality is Labour and Conservatives aren’t that far apart on infrastructure plans.

Labour is now committed to the first phase of HS2, and given the second phases of HS2 and HS3 are very much about the North, are they really going to come into power and dash the hopes of the various town halls under their control?

Okay, politicians still don’t understand many of the finer details of the sector, but the reality is there is far more debate and transparency thanks to the published pipeline of work than there has been - another point made by a number of Summit speakers.

With such a long history of political wrangling on so many major infrastructure projects - Crossrail for example was debated for more than 20 years before we started actually building anything - it’s perhaps not surprising if the industry is still reticent.

And there are, of course, questions still to answer.

Will politicians be brave enough to cut back current spending to fund capital spending?

Is the industry up to delivering it both in terms of skills and balance sheets?

Can we innovate fast enough to keep costs under control and make schemes affordable and viable?

These are still big ifs and buts which we will return to.

Momentarily though let’s enjoy our moment in the sun.

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