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Still a chance for productivity gain


THE GOVERNMENT'S own spending watchdog recommended it. Industry reformer Sir Michael Latham argued forcefully for it. Contractors cried out for it. But calls to gather all Government construction interests under the roof of a new Department for the Built Environment fell on deaf ears.

This is a tremendous disappointment and marks a real missed opportunity for a new Labour Government intent on raising investment and getting real value for money.

There are clear arguments in favour of a co-ordinated approach to construction, particularly when the Government's priorities lie in building sustainable communities, new schools, and hospitals.

Instead, construction must continue to accept the harsh reality that an industry accounting for 8 per cent of total UK output will be represented by a busy junior minister burdened by a number of other tasks.

If there is a glimmer of hope for construction, it lies in the newly named Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry.

Some detractors may have dismissed the renaming of the Department of Trade and Industry as little more than a rebranding exercise. It is still too early to tell, but the name change may signal a real shift in thinking.

Certainly, the inclusion of energy seems to reflect growing concern about future supplies, and possibly marks a political shift towards paving the way for another generation of nuclear power stations. In the long term this is good news for construction.

More immediately, if DPEI civil servants take the new department name as an instruction to focus on raising the country's productivity, then construction will get a better deal than we expect.

To raise productivity Government must tackle needless business red tape, bureaucratic planning procedures and transport congestion - three subjects very dear to contractors.