Construction welcomes budget, but says focus must be on delivery

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised much for the construction sector - but can his government deliver?

A budget full of promises of future spending on infrastructure was always going to get a good response from the construction sector and Rishi Sunak’s shopping list was warmly welcomed by the sector. However, a number of industry figures highlighted the government’s need to deliver on those promises by turning its words into action.

Mathew Riley, Ramboll UK’s managing director, said the government needed to deliver on its commitments. “The chancellor’s budget today offered some positive and welcomed commitments, but they come off the back of years of underinvestment,” he said. “Our industry now needs government to stand by their promises and deliver not only on these new announcements, but also on existing commitments. Funds need to flow quickly so that we can retain and attract the skills in our industry and continue to invest to deliver more productively on the infrastructure our country so desperately needs,” said Riley.

National Infrastructure Commission chair, Sir John Armitt, said: “The government’s level of ambition is welcome and we look forward to seeing how the National Infrastructure Strategy will build on this in addressing the UK’s long-term needs. We are particularly encouraged by today’s announcements on five-year funding settlements for city leaders to invest in local transport improvements and by the additional investment in electric vehicle charging points, both of which are in line with our National Infrastructure Assessment recommendations.

“We also welcome the additional funding for boosting flood protection, though we have repeatedly argued for this to be complemented by the introduction of a national flood resilience standard. These new commitments, among others, are important ingredients, and we look forward to seeing the whole recipe in the Strategy later this spring.”

David Barwell, chief executive UK and Ireland, AECOM said: “Despite being delivered in what are extraordinary circumstances, today’s budget was a broadly positive one for jobs and infrastructure, even if it did lack the much anticipated details from the National Infrastructure Strategy. Given that the Chancellor championed that the Government is one that will focus on growth whilst protecting our environment, I think he could have used today’s speech to highlight the green credentials of some of our most vital infrastructure projects. This backing would have provided such projects with the confidence to continue setting ambitious green targets, safe in the knowledge that these environmental benefits are supported and understood, an area where AECOM is keen to engage more fully."

WSP’s chief strategy officer, Paul Tremble, said: “This government won a landslide on a promise to end the ‘dither and delay’. On many key agendas, they are getting on with it. On others, such as climate resilience, infrastructure strategy and net zero delivery, we’ll have to wait to see the detail. In the meantime, we welcome Government’s recognition of infrastructure’s role in delivering future prosperity.”

Tremble also welcomed the signals towards more devolution. “We also support the chancellor’s eagerness to decentralise decision making away from SW1,” he said. “The announcement of a new economic campus with 750 civil servants relocating to the north is positive news and perfect timing. As a review of the Green Book kicks off and a white paper on the next steps for devolution is announced, this symbolic move proves they are serious about putting the power back in the north,” said Tremble.

Cathy Travers, managing director, UK and Europe at Mott MacDonald, said: “Today’s budget makes some important down payments on the government’s promise of an infrastructure revolution and desire to level-up infrastructure investment. The further downgrading of UK’s productivity performance by the OBR highlights just how urgent it is to start investing in the assets that will underpin our future growth.”

Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) executive director, Matthew Farrow, said: “Rishi Sunak has made a decent start on the green agenda in his first budget. A good win for EIC is the abolition of red diesel subsidies and the ending of this tax relief on pollution is welcome and levels the playing field for low emission innovation in those sectors. The extension of funding for electric vehicle grants and charging infrastructure is also good as is the additional £300m for local authorities struggling with illegal levels of NO2. The latter needs to be spent effectively to get the Clean Air Zone agenda back on track.

“Carbon capture and storage is vital to meet net zero. The Committee on Climate Change envisages one third of current GHG emissions being captured through CCS technology in 2050, so rapid progress in developing CCS clusters is vital. Today’s £800m for CCS is therefore welcome but more may be needed to get the momentum behind CCS given the speed of deployment needed.”

The budget was also welcomed by northern business. Henri Murison, director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Connectivity alongside devolution in the north and more funding for R&D outside London has been the focus today. A northern chancellor has given a budget which makes a credible start towards levelling up – closing the north-south divide by investing in the infrastructure which will underpin the Northern Powerhouse. Ensuring those living and growing up here today can take advantage of the opportunities that will be created here is the challenge for the Comprehensive Spending Review.”

However, IPPR North director Sarah Longlands warned that more needed to be done to ‘level up’ the country. “A budget that seeks to level up is long overdue, but it is nowhere near enough,” she said. “For too long, the north has been let down. Too much power is hoarded by Whitehall. Over the last decade that power has been used to impose devastating austerity, which has disproportionately impacted upon the north’s economic and human potential. Most importantly, we need a ‘devolution parliament’ which moves power and decision making closer to the people.”

Elad Eisenstein, director of cities and regeneration at Ramboll, said: “The budget has provided an opportunity for a nationwide strategy to integrate infrastructure investment, from railways and new stations to green transportation systems and supporting the development of major projects. This will not only have direct benefits to communities in less connected regions but will deliver better health and wellbeing and also positively impact major city centres and boost the carbon economy.”

Summing up the thoughts of many in the industry, Gareth Wilson, partner at design and planning consultancy Barton Willmore, said: “Exciting times lie ahead but, as always, the devil is in the detail and the programme for implementation. Infrastructure delivery is inherently long term so the challenge for the chancellor will be to ensure these investments can also generate growth over the short to medium term.”

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