Construction needs to engage much more with Labour

Despite the party’s ambitious plans that would bring big benefits to the construction industry, many firms still seem reticent to proactively engage with Labour, reports Andy Walker from Labour’s conference in Brighton. 

Although this year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton may well be remembered more for what happened 54 miles up the A23 at the Supreme Court, the construction and infrastructure sector would do well to take heed of the policy announcements and resolutions passed by delegates as many of them, if implemented by a future Labour government, would mean significant work opportunities for the sector.

The party’s commitment to a Green New Deal and a zero carbon target by 2030 would on its own create tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs, many of which would be in the construction industry. Labour’s promise to embark on a large-scale programme of council house building and retrofitting existing stock would also provide even more work for the industry.

Plans to create dozens of new state-owned offshore windfarms, at a cost of £83bn in public and private money, will deliver even more jobs and call on the expertise and skills of construction workers and engineers as Labour sets its course for Britain to adopt the most ambitious zero carbon target of any country on the planet.

Underlining the party’s green credentials was also the pledge to invest £3.6bn into a massive expansion of the UK’s electric vehicle charging networks. The party claims that its rapid roll out of charging stations will eliminate concerns over driving range and lack of electric car charging infrastructure by providing enough electric charge points for 21.5 million electric cars – 65% of the UK’s fleet – by 2030. This is double the number of electric cars that the current government are planning for by 2030.

Despite all the above, during my time at the conference I didn’t detect the scale of enthusiasm from the industry that Labour’s proposals and promises deserved. Sure, these commitments have yet to be tested in the cold light of day of a new government facing competing priorities and limited resources, but post-Brexit (or post-nearly Brexit!) have we really become so cynical about politics and politicians that the industry is unable to see opportunity when it is so clearly outlined on a public stage.

"Despite some really ambitious plans for infrastructure, during my time at the Labour conference I didn't detect the scale of enthusiasm from the industry that the party's proposals deserved."

In the immediate aftermath of party delegates voting for the ambitious 2030 zero carbon target at a meeting including many young people enthused and energised by Labour’s pledge, one of the speakers at the event, organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said that the zero emission 2030 target was a fantasy and would never happen. 

Instead of pouring cold water on these ambitious plans, the industry would be well advised to take Labour’s pledges at face value and offer to work with the party to ensure that they have the best chance of success. Surely there is an opportunity for engineers especially to take a leadership role on this and for the whole construction industry to use the party’s ambitious proposals to attract more young people to work in the construction sector in the worthwhile and well-paid green-tech jobs that might be coming down the track?

Apart from anything else, given the current political ferment, Labour could well be in power in the not too distant future and it seems long overdue for the industry to be engaging with the party, its leadership, shadow ministers and advisers on how best construction can help to implement plans which, if successful, could benefit firms greatly.

I detected a reluctance and a reticence from many of the firms attending fringe events in Brighton to positively and directly engage with the party on a range of issues. There’s no reason for this in my view. On Labour’s green agenda alone, the industry should be knocking on the party’s door and offering to help. It’s no good waiting until we have a Labour government and then being surprised and unprepared for a potential infrastructure spending spree.

Andy Walker is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.