Construction is a key pillar of the economy: This election must focus on more than just Brexit
Support for the construction industry is unarguably a key topic for the General Election, requiring attention from parliamentarians and policymakers. This is the Chartered Institute of Building's manifesto for the 2019 General Election.
It’s official – there will be a general election on Thursday 12 December 2019. There are those who believe it will be dominated by Brexit - but there’s no doubt that many other issues which have a tangible and long-lasting impact on our society will be campaign topics. Support for the construction industry and those who work to shape our built environment is unarguably a key topic, requiring attention from parliamentarians and policymakers.
The quality of our built environment affects all of us. It influences productivity and wellbeing at home and at work. It creates and maintains the places that people live, work and play in, the infrastructure that supports them and the services that sustain them. It cannot be ignored by government and needs to be prioritised, not least because it is also one of the supporting pillars of the UK economy, officially contributing just over 6% of economic output and employing around 2.3 million people directly.
We published a manifesto for the construction sector prior to the 2017 election, calling on policy makers to address key issues. In the current climate of political paralysis, not nearly as much progress as we would like to see has been made on many of these issues, despite the engagement and campaigning work by the CIOB and other bodies in the sector. We’re now renewing our calls to action for whoever is next in power.
First and foremost, and this is not something from our previous manifesto, we want and need consistency in leadership from government for this important sector – we’ve had three construction ministers this year alone and just had our tenth housing minister since the coalition government came to power in 2010. We call on the next government to appoint a Housing Minister and a Construction Minister with a background in or understanding of the sector and leave them in post long enough to work with us and other industry bodies to make meaningful progress on the issues that need to be addressed.
How we can help: We are ready to share our knowledge and experience to help improve policymakers’ understanding of the sector. We will continue our Public Affairs work to engage with politicians and civil servants, providing our latest research, industry case studies and policy positions. We will also continue to work with other sector bodies to drive progress and advocate for the industry.
Next, step up support for the industrial strategy and recognise construction’s role in improving productivity. The previous government, prior to 2017, pledged £163 billion for construction and £297 billion for infrastructure projects up to 2020-21. Spending, if carried out wisely, can and will stimulate regional and national economies, support manufacturing and improve the quality of life in countless communities. It can also help companies develop and hone their expertise for export, perhaps more pressing a need now than ever before.
Investment in the built environment and its workforce has a major bearing on how productive we are as a nation. Better buildings and infrastructure contribute to productivity not just by increasing economic output, but by making people happier, safer and healthier.
The industry also needs more support for investment into research and innovation. To boost and incentivise innovation within the industry, businesses are looking towards the government for the industrial strategy to be implemented, to provide more confidence in pipelines and funding for the sector.
How we can help: The construction industry should not just be seen as a low-productivity problem; it needs to be viewed as a solution, supporting a high productivity UK. We will share our research into productivity and how we can create a framework for construction and the wider economy to thrive.
Training and skills development
As a major client of the construction sector, government, central and local, also has a vital role to play in developing skills, improving productivity and supporting innovation through public procurement; for example, tying some public investment to training, professional development and job creation. But it is essential that this process is both efficient and transparent, especially where public funds are being invested.
We also want further commitments on support for apprenticeships. The reduction in funding for construction sector degree-level apprenticeships is likely to hit both the numbers of universities prepared to provide these courses, and the numbers of trained graduates available to join the industry. It is not only the case that there is a shortage of entrants into the industry, but survey data reveals a shortage of trained graduates available to fill more technical roles. Without the right support for degree-level apprenticeships this is likely to get worse, at a time when the industry and the economy can least afford it.
It is also important that government tackles job roles with the highest skills gap, such as those that work within conservation and refurbishment of heritage buildings.
How we can help: Talk to us about our professional qualifications. As a professional body, we are committed to working with government, industry and higher education establishments to broaden access to our professions, ensuring that they are an attractive and welcoming career for people from all backgrounds.
Quality and professional competence
Recent high-profile incidents have highlighted build quality deficiencies. Quality must not be compromised in the name of cost or time; the industry must do better and cannot become complacent. Poor buildings and infrastructure have consequences for our health, wealth and wellbeing and burden the economy.
We want government to challenge the industry to build better, by maintaining and improving existing standards. A new relationship with the EU and beyond should not be associated with a race to the bottom, the costs of which future generations will live with.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is also ensuring that businesses and their supply chains are acting ethically and responsibly. Bills that had some time and attention in the most recent parliamentary session but were not passed include the Modern Slavery Victims bill – we want to see reference to this in the next Queen’s speech.
How we can help: Find out more about the ethical standards we demand of our chartered members, our new Code of Quality Management and our efforts to improve how the industry tackles modern slavery.
Around 40% of carbon emissions come from the built environment. Climate change and global warming have been in the headlines this year and, rightly so, are garnering attention in a way they have not previously. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), among others, has declared that we are facing a climate emergency. We should support the Paris Agreement and, in practical terms, take a longer-term view, with investment to fortify existing infrastructure along with funds for new, resilient infrastructure with all the resources (including training and education) that will be required to put these programs in place.
There is also a sound case to improve the housing stock across the UK to deliver energy efficiencies and a long-term future for existing properties. The new government should partner with the construction industry to deliver this. Eurostat data shows the UK has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe, with the smallest proportion of homes built after 1970 and the second highest proportion built before 1919. Focussing on improving housing will lead to significant benefits including job creation, stability in the pipeline and, importantly reducing energy consumption.
However, retrofitting existing housing stock is only part of the solution. Still too much waste occurs during the construction phase of developments, causing loss to the economy and environment. There are industry tools such as BREEAM and SAP aiding organisations to monitor and assess environmental performance but more needs to be done by government to support companies in improving their efforts on carbon reduction.
How we can help: We will continue our Carbon Action 2050 initiative to provide guidance to the built environment sector on how to cut carbon emissions by applying innovation and best practice to project design, construction, maintenance, operation, retrofit, and waste management. We will also share with government our case studies and evidence from industry on what works and what is needed to drive progress with regard to energy efficiency, waste management and sustainability reporting.
Investment in the regions
Successive governments have highlighted the unbalanced nature of the UK economy; in 2015, London’s total gross value added (GVA) of £378 billion accounted for nearly 23% of UK GVA. An unbalanced economy relies heavily on credit and high spending. It is hampered by falling or stagnating productivity, a decline in investment and unsustainable rises in asset prices like housing.
We believe that in key regions the next government should seek to promote ‘clusters’ of construction related businesses, to stimulate innovation, create greater opportunities for networking and sharing of ideas. Located near universities with a strong tradition in construction and engineering, these hubs would operate in a similar way to existing science parks, helping to group a range of built environment-related businesses. This would have many benefits, not least making regional firms more effective in their local market and more attractive in the national market and overseas.
How we can help: This year we have undertaken in-depth research into investment in and the value of construction, broken down into regional details, which will equip policy makers with an understanding of the value of construction and the means to make informed decisions about investment in the built environment.
These are some of our key wishes from the next government. We urge policy makers from across the political spectrum to engage and learn more about this fantastic industry. Our dedicated Policy and Public Affairs website provides non-partisan advice and guidance through our latest research, consultation responses and publications.
The Chartered Institute of Building has a Royal Charter to promote the science and practice of building and construction. Read more about their work HERE.