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AGENDA

The gloves are off.The parties argue why you should vote for them, how they would restructure government and how their rival's policies would damage the construction sector Why should the construction industry vote for your party?

Labour There is a clear choice at this election; continued economic stability and sustained investment in our public services with Labour or a return to boom and bust, high unemployment and massive cuts to frontline services under the Tories.

Our £38 billion sustainable Communities Plan, which the Tories are committed to scrapping, is the most ambitious housing and regeneration programme since the 1950s.We will continue to develop the planning regime so that it is simpler, faster and more responsive to local and business needs.

With Labour, Britain has enjoyed the lowest interest rates in 40 years, the lowest inflation rates in 30 years and the longest period of sustained economic growth for 200 years.

There are now more than four million businesses in Britain - 300,000 extra since 1997.Unemployment is at its lowest since 1975.The construction industry will also benefit from our sustained investment in our public services.

Conservative There is a clear choice at this election: more red tape and higher taxes under Labour and the Lib Dems, or deregulation, value for money and lower taxes with the Conservatives.

With the construction industry employing almost a quarter of a million people and representing a fifth of UK manufacturing, it is of great concern that figures from the Construction Products Association predict a dramatic slowdown in the industry's growth from 4.1 per cent in 2003 to just 1.5 per cent in 2006.

This is another example of how Mr Blair is taking us in the wrong direction.We believe that construction will be best served by a strong and stable economy, with low taxes and low regulation.

Only a Conservative Government will lock in economic stability for the long term by keeping the Bank of England fully independent and handing over monetary policy powers to Europe.We will deliver value for money in public spending, allowing us to spend £12 billion less than Labour by 2007-8.This means we can avoid Labour's third-term tax rises, predicted by nearly all independent economic commentators and cut taxes by £12 billion to help hard-pressed businesses.We all also introduce a range of deregulatory measures too.

Liberal Democrats We would safeguard the future of construction by ensuring, through better vocational as well as academic education, workers in the sector have best possible skills. By reforming the business rates system we would free up businesses from red tape and save them money so they can concentrate on building and sustaining their companies.We would build 100,000 new affordable homes, equalise VAT on new builds and repairs, and bring many of the million empty homes back into use, providing new contracts for the construction industry.

Liberal Democrats would reform and streamline Whitehall structures and bureaucracy to simplify the relationship between business and government, reducing overlaps and conflicts. By abolishing the DTI and putting a Minister for Business into the cabinet the Liberal Democrats would put business at the centre of government.The Liberal Democrats are in favour of best value bidding.We would adopt a decentralised approach that will open up opportunities for smaller, more local suppliers to bid for contracts.

Labour We are working across government to build sustainable communities, which people want to live in, not leave.We are not just investing in bricks and mortar, but are aiming to deliver the jobs, services and infrastructure needed to make these communities sustainable.

Conservative Yes.The centralised structure centred on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is failing the built environment.We will abolish the ODPM and its regional quangos, creating a department with general oversight of local government and giving local people much greater influence on their built environment.

Liberal Democrats Whitehall structures and bureaucracy can complicate relationships between business and government.We would reform and streamline departments, abolishing the DTI and putting a Minister for Business into the cabinet. It is crucial that the industry's relationship with government is strengthened so that the built environment objectives can be delivered.

What is your position on the use of migrant labour in the construction sector?

Labour Immigration has been good for Britain and we want to keep it that way.We will establish a points system for those seeking to migrate here from outside the EU.We've sent a clear message to the new EU accession states, from where many skilled people in the construction sector come, that with 600,000 vacancies in the UK job market, people from those states are welcome to come to the UK and work, but not to claim benefits.Our policy means migrants can work legally in the UK and pay taxes, and not be exploited in the black economy.

Conservative We believe that migrant labour makes a vital contribution to the UK economy. However, greater control is required over our country's borders and we have pledged to introduce immigration quotas to achieve it.The quota will be set annually by parliament and take into account the labour and skills needs of the construction industry and other sectors of the economy.The construction industry will not face problems with skills and staff shortages as a result of our policies for controlled immigration.

Liberal Democrats We would bring in an annual independent and public estimate of the number of migrant workers needed every year, broken down by sector, with input from the CBI, trade unions and public and private sectors.We would also introduce a sector-based 'Green Card'scheme to replace work permits. Individuals would be granted the right to reside and seek work in the UK for a fixed period, limited to working in sectors where there was a demand for labour.

How can Government procurement be improved?

Labour We will continue to support best value. Since 1 April 2000, Best Value has required local authorities to make continuous improvements to all of their services including housing.We have also put a National Procurement Strategy in place, which sets out how central and local government, working together with partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors, intend to set about improving local government procurement. E-Procurement has enormous potential to improve councils' procurement functions and to save money.

Conservative We are looking at ways of improving the system of contracts for government procurement.

We are committed to giving taxpayers value for money and will judge all procurement bids on this basis.At the same time we will help small businesses through our determined drive for a low-tax and low-regulation economy.

Liberal Democrats We are in favour of best-value bidding.Current procurement reflects the Government's obsession with centralisation.We would adopt a more decentralised approach that will open up opportunities for smaller, more local suppliers to bid for contracts.

What policy from your rival parties would most damage construction?

Labour The construction industry cannot afford to risk the economic stability that Labour has delivered.When Michael Howard was in office, interest rates were at 15 per cent for a year, 1.5 million households suffered negative equity, more than 250,000 families lost their homes.

The Tories have committed to policies that repeat the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s.

At the heart of their plans is a commitment to cut £35 billion from public spending by 201112.This would mean an immediate cash freeze for the transport budget - that's a £1.2 billion cut from projects Labour has already committed to by 2008.On housing the Tories have said they would scrap the Sustainable Communities Plan, cutting £1 billion from the housing budget.

Conservative Labour's Barker Review recommends that 'Government should use tax measures to extract some of the windfall gain that accrues to landowners from the sale of their land for residential development. Government should impose a planning gain-supplement on the granting of planning permission'The review stated that only 'a proportion of the revenue generated from the granting of planning permission in local authorities should be given directly to local authorities'In other words, it would become a national development tax, with most of the money going to the Treasury.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats want local councils to create their own building regulations, on top of national regulations.This would lead to explosion in confusing red tape.

Liberal Democrats Labour's decision not to implement the Tomlinson report will lead to a shortage in vocational qualifications which will damage British businesses.The Conservatives would damage the construction industry by cancelling the sustainable communities programme and by cutting the numbers of houses being built each year.