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CN Briefing: Theresa May; Autumn Statement; Philip Hammond; R&D; Ceca

On Wednesday the chancellor will announce a £1.3bn splurge on “shovel-ready” roads projects.

As part of the plan, Highways England will get an extra £220m to tackle “pinch-points” on England’s strategic roads, while a £1.1bn war chest will be given to local authorities to ease congestion on the country’s notoriously under-funded local roads network.

Details of future projects are bound to catch contractors’ attention, but there was a second pre-Autumn Statement announcement by the prime minister today that contractors should also note.

Speaking at the CBI’s annual conference, Theresa May promised £2bn a year in extra funding for R&D research, while promising a review of tax credits for R&D research.

While the benefits were framed as being primarily for tech and science companies, channelling more funds into R&D should be welcome news for construction.

To say that the UK industry is behind other western nations when it comes to investing in construction R&D is an understatement.

As Andrew Neil pointed out at this year’s Construction News Summit, the UK currently spends only £43m on construction R&D.

That is well behind countries such as France (£203m) and Japan (£750m).

This is not to mention the hundreds of construction firms that currently miss out on billions in R&D tax credits every year.

An R&D cash injection is much needed throughout the sector.

However, as Mrs May listed the areas she believed could benefit from more government money, construction was conspicuously absent.

Within hours the Civil Engineering Contractors Association sent through a release saying there was a clear case for long-term commitment to innovation in the infrastructure sector and that the government should maintain funding on infrastructure R&D.

The Autumn Statement promises to be the most infrastructure-heavy in years, and it’s crucial the government invests in the development of projects that will benefit the country for years to come.

But it will also be important to support the growth of the skills that will be vital to delivering not only these infrastructure projects but those announced in Autumn Statements yet to come.

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Plant hire specialist Hewden looks close to collapse after the company’s owners failed to find financial backers.

Mitie has warned on 2017 profits after the company posted an £100m H1 loss.

Costain has scooped a £113m contract to upgrade two of National Grid’s gas compressor stations.

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