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Wherefore art thou 'construction' minister?

Tom Fitzpatrick

Lord Prior’s departure as construction minister will have been met with a collective shrug by 99 per cent of the industry.

I’ve long since given up on the notion that a construction minister can be a focal point as a go-between for government and industry.

However, the work being done behind the scenes on a new sector deal for construction and the industrial strategy is important, so it was good to see swift confirmation of his replacement: fellow peer Lord Henley.

Lord Prior’s departure, nine months after replacing Jesse Norman (who lasted six months) isn’t a surprise. The role is transient and in truth, most people in construction still haven’t heard of Lord Prior, as he kept a relatively low profile compared with his predecessors.

To put it in context: five years ago Michael Fallon was proudly telling CN that banks which refused to lend to construction firms would be “named and shamed” while he was construction minister.

Since then Jesse Norman and Lord Prior (and to a lesser extent, Nick Boles) have held the role and kept a low profile. In truth, they are ministers with multiple briefs, rather less inclined to describe themselves as ‘construction ministers’ than many in the industry, CN included.

Lord Prior made a slow start by all accounts. But having entered the role as an industry sceptic, he leaves as a construction convert thanks primarily to his work co-chairing the Construction Leadership Council.

For an industry that is so poor at hammering home messages with politicians, this is a crumb of comfort. A former construction minister once admitted to a CN reporter that they basically didn’t know anything about construction.

Mr Fallon was a notable exception when it came to being interviewed, or even answering a question, about construction. Generally the rule appears to be that CN is best avoided by construction ministers (presumably for fear of betraying said lack of knowledge).

What about the newest man in the role, Lord Henley?

Unless you’re a marmalade aficionado (he won Best in Show for his outstanding preserve at the World Marmalade Awards in 2011) the chances are you won’t be familiar with his work.

While Lord Henley’s views on construction are not known (he doesn’t seem to speak on the subject in the Lords often, if at all) his primary role will be to co-chair the CLC at an important time.

He has held multiple junior minister roles in his time as a peer, so will be well used to dealing with civil servants – the people our industry actually needs to work closely with to ensure it gets the right messages across.

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