Coalition government’s first 100 days: the industry’s verdict
18 August 2010 | By Andrew Hankinson
As the government marks its first 100 days with tough-talking speeches, leading industry figures give their opinion
Pascale Scheurer, founder of Surface to Air architects
“This Government does not much care for how it is perceived. Both parties got a bloody nose from the electorate on 6 May, so to be fair to them, they hadn’t much love to lose. The public debt was the overriding challenge and the solution – right or wrong – has been fast, deep cuts to public spending.
“The major blow for architects came with the end of the BSF programme. We have already seen thousands of redundancies at major contractors, hundreds amongst architects. We expect many more come September. Those who don’t cut early enough risk liquidation or take-over. We don’t expect much direction until December, and little capital spend for 6-12 months.
“Batten down the hatches. Your business needs a bridging loan? Tough. You should have seen it coming. You’re out of work? Volunteer. Will there be new opportunities for business? I hope so. I hope that the new focus on private sector delivery, combined with raw necessity, will open up space for entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Stephen Ratcliffe, director of the UK Contractors Group
“All the initiatives with regards the budget deficit have to be seen to be a good thing, because hopefully the tax burden on the industry will be less as a result. The big concern I have is that they don’t make the mistake of the Thatcher government by wrapping up long-term capital expenditure with current expenditure.
“If anyone gets a bad mark it would be Mr Gove on the schools announcements. It wasn’t the most brilliantly handled announcement and caused our members some grief. And the jury is still out on the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies. Certainly the further north you go the more that contractors feel they play a major role.
“Last but not least is the localism agenda. It isn’t properly developed yet and we’re not against it per se, but clearly the idea of doctors procuring contactors is quite scary – there needs to be expert involvement.”
Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser for the House Builders Association
“We have seen no evidence yet that the government understands that radical action has to be taken to reduce regulatory burdens and costs that would enable private investment to replace public funding of new homes.
“Instead, the first hundred days have plunged much of the housebuilding industry into deep despair, as it contemplates a planning black-hole following the revocation of Regional Strategies. On top of pre-existing mortgage shortages, there is now no confidence to acquire land without an existing, viable and implementable planning consent.
“The next hundred days must include radical action to reduce costs, restore development viability, restore housebuilders’ confidence and to demonstrate that the government’s antidote to the planning chaos – incentives for local authorities to permit development – actually works.”
Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Products Association
“An encouraging start, but the real challenges lie ahead. A stable government with a clear direction in economic policy has been a good start. Too early to judge on key issues like energy supply, the green deal, localism, and planning, but some worrying lack of co-ordination in the abandonment of one policy (regional strategies) before the one to replace it is ready.
“But the real tests lie ahead, particularly on capital spending. Does the government realise that the long-term solution to our economic problems lies in securing sustainable economic growth and that construction is key to delivering that? We will find out on the afternoon of 20 October.”
The National Federation of Builders
“While the speed of the formation of the coalition government was impressive and the five-year programme inspired confidence and gave the impression of a government with a purpose, the execution is sadly wanting. The government appears to be taking a shotgun approach to policy relating to construction and to housing by floating ideas and seeing what sticks:
Scrap regional development agencies, but have nothing in their place.
Propose that councils and businesses create local enterprise partnerships, but ask for detailed proposals months before the government provides guidance on how they are supposed to work.
Scrap regional spatial strategies, but do not have any transitional plans in place to deal with planning applications and appeals.
“And, in much the same way as Gordon Brown redefined the word ‘prudence’, this government has redefined the phrase from the emergency budget ‘no more capital spending cuts’ to mean ‘we are now cutting the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme’.”
Graham Kean, partner and global head of public sector at EC Harris
“They were out of the blocks like a flash. Over £6bn of cuts straight away, and that was quickly followed by an emergency budget that sounded well thought out and was a master-class in communications and expectation management. It spoke of protecting capital programmes (a lifeblood that will stimulate economic recovery) whilst targeting waste and efficiency.
“Then came Gove and the rapid halt of Building Schools for the Future. That sent shockwaves through our industry, and the feeling was that the message could have been better delivered. Now, with leaks from departments heralding huge cuts as they prepare for the comprehensive spending review and the drive to reduce cost with impunity, I fear some have lost sight of the value that we can deliver as a sector.
“Great start, and it would have been an A but for the BSF confusion. I would have to say B+ for tackling the big issues head-on, but could do better.”
Paul Swinburn, director of estate management firm Provelio, and one of Building’s floating voters before the election
“The first 100 days have been unnervingly quiet from both coalition parties and their leading individuals. Maybe that’s inevitable for a joint venture in a desperately tough economic climate tasked with making hellishly unpopular decisions: neither want to claim the credit for causing the chaos that will inevitably ensue.
“Some dramatic public spending cuts have already been made and our business has already experienced the initial effects of some. There have been rumblings amongst the Lib Dems that they have sold their souls to the Tories but no major signs yet of the inevitable cracks that will end this ill-conceived marriage. I would still have preferred to see Labour under the cosh, but hey, that’s democracy.”
Neil Dower, managing director of Hertfordshire contractor Conamar, and another of Building’s floating voters before the election
“I voted Conservative in the end and I think I made the right decision. The coalition is gelling as well as it can do and Cameron still has the lead as it were. For the first 100 days we’ve mostly been hearing about economic policy – public spending cuts. We now need to hear from Osborne what his route is to recovery beyond those cuts.
“There’s no dramatic change for me at the moment, but a lot of people are going to suffer because of the cuts and there will be considerable job losses, so I think the government has to be careful to look at all angles. But Labour were trying to get away with ignoring it, so I’m glad I voted the way I did.”
Tony Williams, chairman of construction consultancy Building Value
I’d give them seven out of 10. I think they have started brightly and seem pretty sure-footed. Cameron looks and sounds like a statesman, which stands in sharp contrast to the clochard that was Brown. Similarly, Osborne, who I did not previously like, is shaping up very well as Chancellor. He is hawkish on spending cuts and decisive, which is good (and needed). I also suspect that he is not to be messed with. Nick Clegg it seems, though, has fallen between the cracks.
Peter Drummond, chief executive of architect BDP
“It is understandable that they curtailed the school programme but the way it was done was unfortunate, very draconian. They didn’t seem to take into account the dire state of some of the school buildings that need replacing. One hopes it won’t be too long for a new process of procurement to be put in place. With regards hospitals there is a critical need for hospital replacement, but there has been silence on the programme. I hope it doesn’t go the same way as the school programme.
“The localism agenda is a recipe for NIBYISM; no regional authority is not good planning. Also, the proposal to remove default retirement age is an ill-considered move that will make life very difficult for employers to develop their businesses and make it even more difficult for young people to get jobs.
“But generally there is a sense that someone is in control, because government is getting to grips with public administration, so companies have a level of confidence in the future state of the economy.”
Hilary Satchwell, director of planning firm Tibbalds
“The new government’s focus on giving communities a voice is a really important step towards creating better, more sustainable development. But so far we have seen nothing demonstrating how this shift will actually be implemented – they seem to be teetering at the edge rather than getting stuck into making this policy a reality. If this means a more considered approach is on its way, it will be worth waiting for.
“Ideally, the next 100 days need to include a framework for meaningful engagement with local communities about what makes their place special and the issues that need to be addressed – so that everyone is involved in shaping their environment and we can get back to delivering appropriate regeneration for the areas that need it most.”
Tom Foulkes, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers
“We are pleased that in its first 100 days the new government has been vocal about the importance of effective and sustainable infrastructure to the future of the UK, however we still need clarity around how exactly we will meet pressing environmental targets, guarantee energy security and most importantly, attract the private investment to achieve these goals.
“With an estimated £40-50bn per year needed in infrastructure investment in the next decade, we need clear thinking on how funds will be raised. The proposed Green Investment Bank could have a vital role to play but we are yet to be convinced it will be is robust and comprehensive enough for the scale of the challenge ahead.
“Similarly, the planning system is up in the air, and while there have been reassurances that the transition to a new regime will be smooth and continue to fast-track vital projects such as wind farms and power plants, in the next 100 days Government must focus on giving industry confidence to plan for the long-term.”