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Lucas: ‘We will make investment now’

Construction minister Ian Lucas has warned contractors he can live no assurances about public sector capital expenditure, admitting that “difficult decisions on spending” lie ahead.

But he insisted he was working to ensure promised fiscal stimulus work was coming forward, and to boost bank lending to the industry.

Mr Lucas, who took over the construction portfolio in June, said his priority was to “spend on the projects now – invest now”.

Speaking to Construction News, he warned contractors: “It is always the case that there are going to be difficult decisions on spending.

“What we are determined to do is make the investment now… because the key thing is for the economy to recover and improve.

“But the chancellor will make an assessment of where the economy is at some point in the future.”

Mr Lucas said he had been monitoring the spending of other Government departments to ensure work was happening and “bills are being paid”.

“It is vital we focus on the immediate position, because if we don’t keep the economy going at this stage, then we will prolong the recession,” he said.

The ninth construction minister in the past eight years threw his weight behind attempts to encourage greater lending to struggling contractors.

Former banker Lord Mervyn Davies has been leading discussions with the banks to boost support to business, and Mr Lucas revealed: “I know him very, very closely.

“For me, it is clearly an important issue – we need to increase the support the banks are giving to the construction sector.”

The minister, whose responsibilities span nine sectors including aerospace and automotive, said he had been spending a significant amount of his time working on construction issues, including the carbon review and the introduction of a chief construction adviser.

He said: “[Construction] is a hugely important industry.”

LUCAS’ 2020 VISION

Mr Lucas said he would like to see the UK construction industry competing internationally by 2020.

“This will be possible when the  sector is demonstrating financially, socially and environmentally sustainable practices, and delivering improved performance and productivity through a highly-skilled workforce,” he said.

“The Government is already making steps towards this aim through the appointment of a chief construction adviser who will lead the recently announced construction review and co-ordinate Government policies affecting the construction sector.”