David Harris, Partner at property, construction and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard, discusses the Chancellor’s Spring Statement and why the construction industry should look to the opportunities the future presents.
As expected, the Spring Statement was dominated by the topic of Brexit. Mr Hammond did maintain, however, that we have a solid foundation on which to build Britain’s future. I believe that, for the construction industry at least, we should look to the opportunities the future presents us with. We’re a robust industry and we’ve certainly weathered ‘storms’ before and come out stronger. It’s a chance for us to carve out standards that work for us and ways of working from which we can all benefit.
Infrastructure, skills and housing were three areas the Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed needed investment in order to boost productivity. This is something I certainly agree with. Proper connectivity between towns and cities, an appropriately skilled workforce — promoting an equal gender balance — and housing to meet growing demand will position the country as a world leader and enable us to further compete in the global market.
The Borderlands Growth Deal was announced, committing £260m for the English/Scottish border, with deals for Wales and Derry Londonderry also being discussed. This is great news for the UK in growing better-connected and prosperous economies across the regions.
Mr Hammond reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse’s rail project. We are wholeheartedly behind this scheme as the region has so much to offer but, without proper connectivity between the great cities of the North, its productivity will suffer.
Since the removal of PFIs in the 2018 Budget, the Government is now looking at how the country can benefit from private infrastructure investment sorely needed to support future development and continued growth of our domestic and international economies.
A modern industrial strategy also means incorporating technology. The evolution of smart city development is proving to be a key contributor, optimising connectivity and harnessing the incredible potential available to us through real-time data, improving the lives of communities and the effectiveness of commerce.
As an industry, we’re facing a skills crisis so it was encouraging to hear that Mr Hammond has recognised the need to include ‘technical and vocational skills at the heart of our education system’. He provided an update on T levels, the national retraining scheme and apprenticeships.
In terms of apprentices, in the 2018 Budget it was announced that employers’ co-investment paid would be halved — from 10% to 5%. This will take affect from 1st April. I’m very supportive of the apprenticeship scheme, so if this encourages more businesses to take on apprentices that’s fantastic news. Learning while on the job is the best way to gain experience and understand the industry — while simultaneously progressing with an education.
Housing is always high on the agenda and, at Pick Everard, we’ve proud to be working on a number of significant residential schemes across the UK, which are all essential in alleviating the housing crisis.
£717m from the £5.5bn Housing Infrastructure Fund will be used to unlock up to 37,000 homes at sites in London, the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and Cheshire. This is a great first step, but we need more land to be unlocked — this scheme hasn’t quite gone far enough yet; particularly in areas that really need it.
Through the Affordable Homes Guarantee Scheme, the Government will guarantee up to £3bn of borrowing by housing associations in England to support delivery of around 30,000 affordable homes.
As we move towards a more sustainable future, it’s great to see that a new Future Homes Standard will be introduced. This will help to end fossil-fuel heating systems in all houses from 2025.
The no-deal vote will certainly have an impact on our future. But I remain positive that our industry will remain buoyant and that, through collaboration and a skilled and committed workforce, we can continue to prosper and thrive.