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Construction industry reacts to the government reshuffle

Business and energy minister Matthew Hancock has been urged to brief government leaders on the construction skills crisis after he was given a seat at the cabinet table as part of a major government reshuffle this week.

Mr Hancock, who was named skills minister in September 2012, replaced Michael Fallon as part of a major cabinet reshuffle by the prime minister this week.

David Cameron announced the team he hopes will lead the Conservatives to a 2015 general election victory by shuffling ministers in a move that saw education secretary Michael Gove, climate change minister Greg Barker and transport minister Stephen Hammond all exit their roles.

CITB deputy chairman Judy Lowe said the new roles of former skills ministers Mr Hancock and John Hayes, made a transport minister, would provide a “strong lobbying influence that could maybe tip the balance” on increasing urgency within government on tackling the skills crisis.

UKCG director Stephen Ratcliffe said contractors had been impressed by Mr Hancock’s commitment and knowledge of the skills agenda since he took the role of skills minister.

While he had been “slow” to get the CITB’s triennial review off the ground, he had impressed industry with his work on the Richard Review of apprenticeships and getting the government focused on skills in the construction industry.

Midas group chairman and Construction Leadership Council member Steve Hindley said that although reshuffles could be a source of frustration for the industry, he was happy with the continuity provided by Mr Hancock and new skills minister Nick Boles, who has moved from his role as planning minister.

He said: “Michael Fallon will be missed as a heavyweight operator, but I hope Matt Hancock will be as interested as [Mr Fallon] has been.”

Mr Hindley added the industry should “try to get as much as possible from the government in the next few months before the election” as it seeks votes and the industry seeks backing for new projects.

Scape chief executive Mark Robinson said it was “imperative that we have strong leadership from central government and solution-driven ministers”.

He added: “Re-arranging the deck chairs can bring new ideas and creativity, but my concern is that the sheernumber of changes across construction, education, housing, energy and planning, will leave us rudderless and drifting until the next election, as the incoming ministers try to grasp the complexchallenges our industry is facing.”

A spokesman for the Association for Consultancy and Engineering welcomed the appointment and said: “We hope he will bring some of the experience gained from the skills portfolio over to construction given that this has been raised as one of the key issues in the sector over the coming years.”

Mr Fallon’s departure from the post has raised concerns, however, with one industry spokeswoman saying the move was “more political rather than continuing [his] good work in cabinet”.

Another commentator said it would be “interesting to see how construction fits into [Mr] Hancock’s new brief” as it was “critical that there’s a senior minister who is responsible and who is championing the construction sector”.

Construction Products Association economics director Noble Francis said he did not expect the reshuffle to have a “considerable impact” on policy.

“With less than a year to go until the election it is unlikely that we are going to see any major changes… especially in infrastructure, which is longer term and has a National Infrastructure Plan anyway.”

Other ministerial moves include the sacking of environment secretary Owen Paterson; the departure of energy minister Greg Barker, who had led on the Green Deal and will not seek re-election next year; and the promotion of Brandon Lewis, who has become communities minister, responsible for housing and planning.

The Department for Communities and Local Government could not confirm what position former housing minister Kris Hopkins, who had been in the role for 10 months, would fill.

This will be the fourth housing minister in three years. Mr Hopkins, Mark Prisk and Grant Shapps have all previously held the post.

Mr Paterson will be replaced by Liz Truss, who has left her role as parliamentary under-secretary of state for education and childcare.

KPMG’s UK head of infrastructure, building and construction Richard Threlfall said Mr Paterson’s exit from government was the most notable move for the infrastructure sector.

He said: “It underlines again the challenges of trying to pursue long-term infrastructure projects when you have moving deckchairs at the heart of government.

EC Harris head of education Marcus Fagent described Mr Gove’s move from education secretary to chief whip as a “shock” and said that the industry would be hopeful that the commitment to repairing schools and removing the maintenance backlog would be retained by the new administration.

He added: “Mr Gove’s departure will cause concern and uncertainty among free school sponsors whose interest and support is fundamental to the progress of the programme and to the resultant construction spending.”

The Federation of Master Builders issued a parting shot to Mr Fallon. Sarah McMonagle, its head of external affairs, said:  “We hope that Mr Hancock does not repeat the mistakes made by his predecessor Michael Fallon who did not make the most of this unique position that straddles both construction and energy policy.”

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