2016 preview: the year in Westminster

From the EU referendum to the Housing Bill, ACE’s senior policy manager Peter Campbell and director of policy and externalaffairs Julian Francis highlight the political crunch points for the coming year

Politics is the show that never ends.No sooner are we done with one decision, one Budget, one year,than the next begins, bringing new challenges – some foreseen, others less so – with little time to remember, letalone celebrate, the victories recently won. And so it is, as we say goodbye to 2015, a surprising year in many ways, and bid hello to 2016, with the hope that it proves a little more conventional.

The rise of the SNP: First of all, the things we know about. May 2016 will see a swathe of elections across the regions of the UK, with London, Wales,

Scotland and Northern Ireland all going to the polls. The Labour Party looks set to repeat its 2015 general election performance north of the border by losing out in an enormous way to the SNP, although talk of it finishing behind the Tories may be an exaggeration.

It’s a similar story in Wales, where the governing Welsh Labour Party looks set to lose seats and will need a coalition partner or two after the assembly elections. Plaid Cymru seems the obvious choice, having been the bedfellow of choice in previous administrations. Meanwhile in London the government will be hoping that the traditionally Labour city will once again elect a charismatic Conservative mayor. All sides will be placing housing and infrastructure at the forefront of their manifestos, as we have already seen with projects such as Crossrail 2 and new government powers to directly commission housing developments. ACE has already begun working with all the players to ensure our messages about certainty and stability are engrained in the thinking of the candidates, their teams and their parties.

Housing revolution: As for the political agenda, there is much to keep an eye on during 2016, especially for those interested in infrastructure. The Housing and Planning Bill will receive royal assent in the coming six weeks or so, which will change planning consents, encourage more consideration to be given to starter homes, and formalise the government’s powers to commission housebuilding directly.

Everyone will be monitoring the implementation of these provisions to see if the country can finally deliver the number of houses it needs.

Rail in the spotlight: The rail industry will be eagerly awaiting the recommendations of the Shaw review into the future of Network Rail, keen to find out whether the government will choose to restructure the organisation and its operations. This follows hot on the heels of the Bowe and Hendy reviews, which were all announced in the wake of a disastrous year for the nation’s rail infrastructure custodian and its Control Period 5 programme.

The third runway and a new mayor:If we are all very lucky, we might also get to see a decision made by the government on the thorny question of UK aviation capacity. This has been rumbling on since the establishment of the Davies commission and suffered its latest setback when the prime minister deferred a decision until after the London mayoral election. Clearly, this piece of political chicanery is far from ideal, and so the ACE will be pressing for the decision to be made as early as possible on the morning after the election, Friday 6 May. The good news is that all the leading mayoral candidates are putting housing and transport at the top of their agendas, and infrastructure will play a leading role in the election campaign in the capital.

EU referendum: There is also a decent chance that the country will be going to the polls to decide on what its future relationship with the EU will look like. The prime minister and the chancellor have set the terms for the renegotiation with our European partners, and they may feel that a deal can be reached that will allow for the referendum to be held at least a year earlier than necessary.

The set pieces: Naturally there will also be the usual diary items, such as the Budget, which will be delivered at 12.30pm on Wednesday 16 March; the state opening of parliament and the Queen’s Speech will take place some time in May. Additionally, there will be an Autumn Statement some time during November or December.

Needless to say, ACE will be pushing to position itself at the forefront of these and all the other political issues that we in the infrastructure sector face in the coming year. There are still a mountain of decisions to be made that will fundamentally affect our industry and how delivery of the vital infrastructure we need is to be achieved.

If 2015 was the year of promises, 2016 will be the year of delivering on them.