Top 50 construction priorities for the next government:


In the latest instalment of the top 50 construction issues for
the new government, CN highlights Crossrail 2, the future of
Network Rail, offsite construction and EU workers’ rights.
20) Settle the CITB’s future – and that of the levy
No industry would like the sound of a double-tax so it’s no surprise the
apprenticeship levy isn’t going down well.
With the levy having come into force, construction leaders have pointed
out that they had already been paying into a mandatory training levy for
years – only to be landed with a new one.
In January the CITB set out plans to slash the levy by a third, and has
also launched an initiative to develop offsite manufacture training courses
as part of steps to prove its value. However, the next government would
do well to provide clarity on this issue early in the next parliament.
Paul Morrell, a former chief construction adviser who is contributing to the
government steering group reviewing the CITB, commented in CN this
week: “To say that ‘we can only afford one levy’ or that profit margins are
too narrow to justify an investment in training is simply nuts.”
He added: “Leadership needs to step up and take ownership of a strategy
for a skills and training programme that is fit for purpose. Without that, it is
at least presumptuous to assume that ministers will decide to support
maintaining a statutory levy.”
The new era of industry training under the government’s apprenticeship
levy will struggle to bed in without swift resolution as to the CITB’s future.
19) Draw up a modern national transport strategy
Long considered a ministerial option that ambitious politicians would
rather give a miss, transport is nevertheless vital to economic growth and
social wellbeing – despite often being viewed through the narrow prism of
how to get from A to B.
The next government could consider looking at how transport can be
used to create better places, not just moving people and freight, and
these considerations should be fed through to the planning system to
ensure the design and provision of transport infrastructure is fit for
A national transport strategy is one way of achieving this, according to
Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation vice-president
Matthew Lugg. “A UK transport strategy would provide the basis for an
effective and co-ordinated programme of infrastructure investment that
enables economic growth and gives business confidence to invest in the
UK,” he says.
18) Deliver the industrial strategy with a construction sector deal
In January the government published a green paper on the much-vaunted
industrial strategy.
This strategy aims to boost the economy through upgrades and
innovation with bespoke sector deals – led by business. The government
green paper states that the strategy is an “open call to business to
organise behind strong leadership, like the automotive and aerospace
sectors, to address shared challenges and opportunities”.
Yet despite broad recognition of challenges such as fragmented supply
chains and infrastructure delivery – as discussed in CN’s top 50 – it
remains unclear whether the industry will be able to negotiate its own
sector deal, which many believe is essential if construction is to innovate.
Arcadis head of strategic research and insight Simon Rawlinson says:
“Including construction within the scope of the industrial strategy is vital. It
is also key to maintaining progress on the delivery of the announced
capital programme.”
CECA head of external affairs Marie Claude-Hemming says: “The
implementation of an industrial strategy for construction is vital. Our
sector has historically suffered disproportionately when the wider
economy slows down and as such we call on government to create the
right conditions now to ensure the UK continues to be a key player in the
global marketplace.”
Dr Diana Montgomery, Construction Products Association chief executive
says: “The CPA will continue to make its case for commitment to an
Industrial Strategy. In particular we would like to see a sector deal for the
construction industry to help our companies improve productivity, pull
though innovation and ensure the workforce is able to deliver through
skills and training.
”The next government therefore must consult with the entire supply chain
to shape this deal while the industry must continue to drive the kind of
changes we know are necessary to sustain growth.”
17) Back Network Rail’s five-year funding settlements
As one of the construction industry’s biggest clients, Network Rail’s
investment plans are closely watched by civils contractors, architects and
consultants across the country.
However, since the current control period (CP5) was launched, Network
Rail has been taken onto the public books – as has its £51bn of debt –
with many in the industry fearing that the body could be subject to stricter
borrowing limits by the Treasury.
The High Level Output Statement (HLOS), which takes input on priorities
for CP6, is being undertaken and projects in line for support include
Euston’s redevelopment and potentially enabling works for Crossrail 2.
Transport for London also drew up a £3.6bn improvement wishlist in April
of what it would like to see funded.
The Office of Rail and Road, which regulates Network Rail, announced in
May that it would be proposing changes to how Network Rail’s funding
structure is set up, stating: “Network Rail is increasingly devolving
responsibilities to local managers who can work with local communities
and businesses. We propose to support this by regulating the company in
a different way, looking separately at its national and local
One step the next government could take would be to confirm funding
levels and project priorities for CP6, which runs from 2019 to 2024. It
could also signal that Network Rail will be able to continue on its current
investment trajectory.
16) Put weight behind Crossrail 2
Providing clarity for Network Rail is one thing. But the sector could have
been forgiven for thinking that Crossrail 2 secured approval only a year
Former chancellor George Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard,
had pledged to back the project with £80m in funding.
The scheme was heavily referenced in the 2015 Conservative manifesto.
However, since the resignation of David Cameron after the referendum
vote in June last year, there have been signs that the government has
changed its tune over commiting to the new £31bn route.
The industry has begun raising concerns, with David Leam, infrastructure
director at lobby group London First, adding that he remained positive
about Crossrail 2, describing it as “fundamentally still a strong project”.
He added: “There’s no doubt the Conservatives want to signal they are
serious about doing something to improve transport links in the North. But
I would resist the idea that we can only do one or the other. We can’t be
that limited – we have to be more ambitious.”
CECA’s Ms Hemming says Crossrail 2 is one of a number of projects,
such as Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon (CN top 50: #21), that should be
backed: “We are particularly keen to see progress where key decisions
have been delayed due to the election purdah period.”
15) Lay a path for new nuclear
A decade ago the idea of a new generation of nuclear power plants was
still open to debate.
In the past year, however, the reality of energy shortages appeared to
have finally dawned on government, settling the question over the need
for new nuclear plants is settled. Or at least that’s what we thought.
The issue now revolves around not whether the UK needs more nuclear
power, but how to deliver it.
Hinkley Point C is finally approved and work progressing, despite
continued rumblings around worker disputes and contract details.
However, the delays over plans for Moorside (pictured) have persisted
and the future of the £10bn reactor appears in doubt.
The next government could do well to take a fresh look at the nuclear
pipeline beyond Hinkley to assess how a sustainable funding and
financing agreement can be reached to provide certainty for the industry.
Also, have small modular reactors gone out of fashion now too?
14) Address the shortfall in construction workers
Britain lives in an ageing society, and the huge demographic changes are
starting to become felt acutely in the construction sector.
Over the coming decade around 20 per cent of the construction workforce
will retire – around 400,000 people. The industry could face a shortfall of
100,000 workers in the coming years, especially if new restrictions on
immigration come into fore.
In April, CN published analysis outlining why construction can not afford
to lose its over-50 workers. RICS president Amanda Clack adds: “We
have a lot of people heading towards retirement and in particular people
over 50.
“At the RICS we talk about four generations in the workplace and maybe
encouraging people to not necessarily retire early but keep going –
around 30 per cent of the workforce are aged over 50 and the sector is
facing a real cliff edge if we do not tackle this demographic challenge.”
The industry is also at a tipping point regarding advanced manufacturing
solutions (see #12) in construction. As they become more in vogue, is
there a smarter way of ensuring the right workforce is in place to deliver
infrastructure and how can the government help speed up that change?
13) Appoint a minister for infrastructure
Getting Crossrail 2 delivered, keeping HS2 on budget, driving regional
transport priorities, progressing tidal lagoons, overseeing new nuclear:
these are monumental tasks. Tasks that arguably justify having ministerial
Infrastructure projects often fall victim to funding or budgetary challenges,
and a minister representing both the views of the independent National
Infrastructure Commission and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority
may go some way to helping the UK get onto a long-term, sustainable
path for infrastructure investment.
WSP planning and advisory MD Ian Liddell says: “A minister for
infrastructure can provide a clear, strong focus in government and could
head a fully fledged national infrastructure department. Clear leadership
from government on key policy issues will reduce confusion and increase
Although there are parts of the industry who wouldn’t want to see a
specific minister (how do you wrap up all the briefs covered by
construction into one role?), at present there is a lack of leadership for
this industry within Whitehall. It’s time to think of a better way.
12) Back offsite and modular construction
Offsite and modular construction has come to be seen as the answer to
many problems facing the industry, from increasing margins for
contractors to helping solve the housing crisis.
However, investing in offsite and modular methods comes with an
inherent risk. Factories have to be built and workers reskilled or trained to
be able to adopt these new methods.
Laing O’Rourke invested in offsite with its facility at Explore Industrial
Park and drew praise for pursuing an advanced manufacturing vision. But
O’Rourke can’t do it on its own.
Gleeds chair Richard Steer says: “Ray O’Rourke built a manufacturing
plant in Nottingham but no one else can follow its lead, it is such as huge
“Firms need to know that there’s enough work in the pipeline to be able to
assess if investing is going to pay off.”
Legal & General has the financial weight to take offsite to a new level and
has pressed ahead with its modular housing business. Similarly,
Heathrow has pledged to build four offsite hubs to help make the UK a
world leader in construction and Aecom has struck a deal to deliver 3,000
modular homes as part of the £3.5bn regeneration of Silvertown Quays in
east London.
A new government could certainly provide the fresh impetus to enable
other private firms to think of offsite as a way forward for their own
11) Back EU workers’ rights
It has dogged the post-referendum debate and is seen by all parties as a
priority in the forthcoming negotiations. But one thing is for sure: the
continued unease felt by EU nationals in the UK has started to take its
In May, ONS figures found that 117,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2016,
up 31,000 from the previous year and the highest level since 2009. The
ONS described the figures as “statistically significant”.
The impact of EU citizens leaving the UK by the time Brexit negotiations
are completed in early 2019 could have serious consequences on the
Federation of Master Builders director of external affairs Sarah
McMonagle says: “We risk these workers leaving the industry while the
government uses them as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with the
EU. Once they have left the UK, they are unlikely to return.”