Conservative Party Conference 2019; The Key Promises
Last week, the Conservative Party held its annual party conference in Manchester. Although speeches from senior Party members lacked clarity over Brexit and our future relationship with the EU, we did hear a wealth of announcements that will affect the construction industry. Below I have evaluated some of the key promises, to see whether they are likely to stand the test of time.
Boris Johnson kicked off the Conservative conference by announcing plans for 40 new hospitals to replace outdated buildings and equipment. He cited the "considerable" weekly savings he claims will result from Brexit as he unveiled a hospital-building plan beginning with a £2.7 billion cash injection for six hospitals over the next five years.
However, with an estimated maintenance backlog of £4 million, due to ageing Victorian structures and World War II buildings which desperately need updating, this cash injection will be a drop in the ocean. Our NHS is at a breaking point, and its estate must be well-maintained to ensure it is capable of meeting growing demand. Delivery solutions must consider time-efficient and cost-effective best practice design.
In his address to the Party, Sajid Javid pledged to spend £25 billion on upgrading Britain’s ageing road network, in what he is hailing an “infrastructure revolution”.
While the actual sum of the investment is nothing new, having previously been announced during last year’s so-called ‘road investment strategy’, it is pleasing to gain clarity on individual projects.
A well-maintained road network is critical to the economic productivity of the UK and our ability to present ourselves as an attractive destination for businesses. 90% of our journeys in the UK are completed on roads, and last year 327.1 billion miles were travelled on the road network, a 17% increase since 1997.
Our Essential Infrastructure report revealed that in real terms, construction output on the road network has stayed relatively consistent in the last two decades – from a combined £35.41bn between 1997 and 2006 to £36.48bn between 2007 and 2016.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson set out plans to “beat Germany” on vocational education with a £120 million commitment to specialist institutes. This includes expanding the number of institutes of technology from the 12 currently planned to 20 across England, facilitated through partnerships between businesses, universities and further education colleges.
But our skills shortage is happening now, and there is no time to lose while buildings are being designed and built.
Scape Group Chief Executive
The adoption of offsite construction as the main method of building for all new further education facilities would mean that they are built quicker than traditional methods and would provide additional cost benefits too.
Big ticket projects
To end the conference, the prime minister reiterated his commitment to delivering the first leg of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) between Manchester and Leeds.
This will come as welcome news to the industry. The aspirations for the region are intrinsically linked to ensuring we have adequate transport infrastructure in place, as this keeps our local communities moving and our economies growing.
But, while this is an important first step and highlights the government’s commitment to delivering essential rail and road projects, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there are towns outside of the Manchester to Leeds route that are in desperate need of improved connections to reach their full potential.
It’s all well and good to see so much commitment to building from the government, but we need to remove the cloak of uncertainty that is shrouded over the economy due to Brexit. Only then will the public and private sector feel confident and commit to the delivery of vital projects. Growth in the construction industry is stalling and employment levels in the sector are at their lowest in a decade.
Promises cannot be built on until there is certainty about the future.
Mark RobinsonGroup Chief Executive
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