Fears of a tiny majority or another hung parliament were swept aside last week when voters gave Boris Johnson and the Conservative party a thumbs up and a brutal rejection of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. However, what does the future hold for specialist contractors?
The new Government will now own the future and have to deliver a Brexit and post-Brexit environment that works for everyone. It will be its responsibility and if it has an eye on re-election in 2024 it must not ignore its new supporters from the Red Wall in the North.
For construction the malaise and non-investment climate of recent times has to come to an end. Throughout the election campaign there were commitments to deliver housing for all and an infrastructure that helps the economy and disadvantaged communities build and progress.
Construction has been iddeling and stuttering for six months. It needs an infusion of confidence to get it back on its feet. Investment in infrastructure will bring a big boost. And it should not be just the mega-projects that suck up all the funding. Ongoing maintenance and repair is a critical component.
Also the fundamentals of the sector have to be reviewed to make a sector that represents 7% of the economy and employs more than two million people has a part to play in the future. It’s not a question of if, but when the structural issues are tackled.
The specialist supply chain is critical to the sector’s success. Payment is a constant feature and recent governments have failed to protect businesses. Voluntary agreements, such as the Prompt Payment Code, just don’t work, so effective legislation has to be introduced.
Encouraging people to treat construction as a viable career should also be a priority. Without the necessary skills we can’t deliver the houses and infrastructure the country needs. It’s been easier to poach a fitter from Poland or Romania than grow your own. As we exit the EU, a new model for training and skills development is necessary because the old model does not work any more.
The CITB was established more than 50 years ago when there was a skills crisis. But there is still a skills crisis, so will the new Government question the future of CITB?
The new interpretation of tax will add further financial pressures on specialists who still employ the bulk of craftsmen and skilled labour. The labour only subcontractor model was a means to reduce costs and boost earnings, but the coming of IR35 will question the viability of that model. And with the prospect of reverse VAT later next year there is the likelihood of more tax not less.
The Carillion collapse brought the abuse of the supply chain to the fore. Grenfell Tower has questioned competence. Now is the time for change and for the specialist sector to step forward and make its case to a new Government.
We all want to be successful and have a sensible business environment where we can deliver on our objectives; safely; efficiently; and sustainably. But you still need someone to build it.
Adrian JG Marsh