Fragmenting political landscape poses policy challenges

In the aftermath of the recent elections, companies in the built environment sector will need to expand their lobbying activities across the UK to stay ahead of their rivals, argues Julian Francis.

The national and local elections are now over and the political class has spent a week or so gorging on the results, trying to read the political tea leaves for signs that can predict the future one way or the other. 

Yet what, if anything, do the results actual mean for those of us outside the Westminster bubble? Surely, now that all the electioneering is out of the way we can go back our old life as normal.

Broadly, that is true. With the exception of London that elected a new mayor, nothing has changed in terms of who will govern the three national governments in Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland. The SNP, Labour and DUP/Sin Fein will still determine the political direction of their nations but their dominance is a little weakened as voters looked to other parties with big wins for the opposition in all areas. 

This has led the Conservatives to claim they won the elections due to the big swing to the Party in Scotland that gave the Tories their best election results since 1959, but that only works if you ignore Wales where the party lost seats and Plaid Cymru gained the swing to become the main opposition.

Labour did well in London wining both the mayoralty and more assembly seats but the picture was more mixed in the English council elections with little overall gain. Arguably, it is UKIP that has the most to celebrate having won seven Welsh Assembly seats, two London Assembly seats and 58 council seats broadening the base of the party out of the south east. 

The one stand-out fact of these elections is that we are now seeing that devolution has fully settled in across the UK with a corresponding decline in the dominance of the main parties and the fragmentation of the political landscape that will make it harder for those who seek to influence government policy. 

Voters have shown that they are more than sophisticated enough to understand the difference between who they elect to Westminster and who they elect to national assembles and regional councils. As always voters look to their own interests and are now willing to back a broad range of parties to achieve these interests. 

This means that more and more the political weather will be made locally rather than UK-wide.

So companies engaged in the built environment will need to expand their lobbying activities across the UK and improve their political understanding to take note of the subtle nuances of political activity across the UK if they wish to stay ahead of their rivals. 

The good news, however, is that infrastructure investment was high on the agenda in all parts of the UK with the politicians falling over themselves to promise greater investment in their region. All of which bodes well for a stable environment that will enable companies to invest with confidence. 

The greatest rewards will go to those companies that now grasp the semi-federal nature of the UK and seek to build links across the political divide that help meet political objectives. ACE stands ready to help its members achieve this result.  

 Julian Francis is director of policy and external affairs at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.