This week David Cameron promised the government was embarking on an “all-out mission” to get construction projects off the ground.
Let’s hope, to borrow another of the Prime Minister’s recent soundbites, that he gets out his “big bazooka”.
The rhetoric is certainly encouraging. The emphasis on the need to create jobs in construction and the recognition that the country’s infrastructure must be overhauled if the UK is to compete with the rest of the world in terms of productivity suggests the industry is finally succeeding in communicating its importance more effectively. It’s not often the Prime Minister gives construction top billing.
To compare the need to tackle the budget deficit, by which the government has set so much store and on which it has staked so much of its reputation, with a newly-coined ‘infrastructure deficit’ augurs well for what the industry can hope to hear from the Chancellor in his autumn statement on 29 November.
Promises to free construction companies from the difficulties imposed by planning restrictions, funding blockages and regulatory burdens indicate those at the top of government understand the problems holding the industry back.
This glimmer of hope on the horizon is badly needed. The National Specialist Contractors’ Council state of trade survey for Q3, shared exclusively with Construction News this week (page 2) reveals the shocking statistic that more than half of specialists don’t know what work they’ll be doing in just three months time. Parts of the industry are living and working hand-to-mouth, as is sadly evidenced by the number of firms going under (page 12), unable to hold out any longer. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics don’t have a good story to tell either.
So, David Cameron needs to put his money where his mouth is. And if the government can’t supply all the money, which we all know it can’t, then he needs to set out clearly which projects are its priority, and how they can attract additional funds.
As former Infrastructure UK chief executive James Stewart tells Construction News this week (page 5), councils will need to work up their own plans to attract investment. The industry too can do more to help itself, by paying subcontractors on time. Everyone loses if the supply chain breaks under the strain.