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Policies matter more than personalities

What impact is the reshuffle of ministers and shadow ministers likely to have on construction?

The industry lost a friend in Mark Prisk - the housing and former construction minister really understood our business well.

But Chloe Smith’s voluntary departure from the Cabinet Office will not significantly affect us - she was not in post long enough to make any real impact.

In the main, though, the main players remain the same. There were hardly any changes around the cabinet table or the opposition front bench.

This is good news for the industry. During the latter half of the Labour government, the construction minister seemed to change every few months.

Just as the industry was beginning to get its message across, another change was made and off we went again. And so it went on.

Longer tenures welcome

One of the good things about the coalition government is that ministers have generally stayed in post longer, got a better grip of their departmental briefs and built better relationships with business.

“For our industry a critical skill - and one largely missing in Whitehall - is the ability of ministers to turn their policy goals into real action”

Certainly, ministers have listened and responded positively to the industry’s case for increased investment in infrastructure.

Judging by the rhetoric coming out of last week’s Conservative party conference, infrastructure investment will continue to be high on the political agenda. That has to be good for the industry.

So will there be any change at all? Mark Prisk said he was asked to step down to make way for younger people. That’s all to the good - government, like industry, has to pay serious attention to succession planning and that means bringing younger people on. But will the new generation be any different?

For our industry a critical skill - and one largely missing in Whitehall - is the ability of ministers to turn their policy goals into real action.

“Far more significant to the industry will be the shape of the party political manifestos being drawn up in advance of the next election”

Despite all the recognition of the value of infrastructure investment as a means to stimulate growth, the government has been slow in getting projects off the ground.

That’s why Paul Deighton was drafted into government to try to speed up the process. But he is one man in a government of well over 100 ministers. So let’s hope there will be some action men or women among the new faces.

Yet to manifest

Far more significant to the industry will be the shape of the party political manifestos being drawn up in advance of the next election. Ill-thought-out policies could easily damage economic recovery.

Labour’s controversial new energy policy may well have a damaging affect on future investment. There have also been recent wobbles on High Speed 2.

With no cross-party consensus on infrastructure investment, expect more of the same as the various parties seek to find their distinctive voices ahead of the 2015 polls.

It is policies, not personalities that have a greater effect on the well-being of our industry.

Stephen Ratcliffe is a director at the UK Contractors Group

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