Industry welcomes new PM but calls for continued infrastructure investment

Industry welcomes Liz Truss as new PM and calls for focus on infrastructure, net zero and levelling up.

Leading industry figures have welcomed Liz Truss as the UK’s new prime minister, while emphasising that continued infrastructure investment is crucial to weathering the national and global economic storm.

As widely expected, Truss will become the next prime minister after defeating Rishi Sunak in the Conservative Party leadership contest.

172,437 Conservative Party members were eligible to vote in the contest, which saw a turnout of 82.6%. 

Of that, Truss secured 81,326 votes (57.4%) compared to Sunak’s 60,399 votes (42.6%).

Saying it was “an honour to be elected”, she added the process had been “one of the longest job interviews in history”.

In a short speech after the announcement, she said her “bold plan” would cut taxes and grow the economy with plans to deliver on the National Health Service and the energy crisis.

Industry figures welcomed the new prime minister, but called for a commitment to existing infrastructure projects and, even in the face of growing financial pressures, to remain firmly focused on net zero and levelling up.

New cabinet appointments and policy announcements will inevitably follow in the coming days and weeks. But, for the moment, here’s just a brief selection of initial industry reaction received so far at Infrastructure Intelligence:

Stephen Marcos Jones, CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), said: “I’d like to welcome the new prime minister into her role and congratulate her on a successful campaign.

“The process has, unfortunately, delayed much needed action from government. We know that inflation, rising energy prices and wages are already severely impacting the short to medium term outlook for our sector, and we look forward to seeing how businesses will be supported in these areas through the challenging months ahead.

“Investment in our national infrastructure, and the construction industry more widely, is crucial to weathering any potential economic storm. It will ensure we maintain a long-term view on the economy and invest in a sector which can provide jobs and growth. For this reason I was pleased to see the prime minister back investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail and for roads in her campaign.

“Our members play a vital role in delivering the long-term solutions that society requires on energy, transport, connectivity, net zero and regional development. It is for this reason we look forward to our constructive relationship with government continuing under her leadership.”

Marie-Claude Hemming, director of operations for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said: “The infrastructure and construction sectors are looking for clarity, continuity, and consistency from the new government. 

“We acknowledge that the current fiscal outlook is extremely challenging. Nonetheless we call on the new government to hold its nerve in the face of the current economic headwinds, and commit to existing programmes of investment, to project jobs, ensure market confidence, and deliver recovery through Great British infrastructure. 

“We strongly believe that if the new prime minister is to successfully unleash growth they must commit to existing plans and projects such as the next roads, rail, and water settlements, as well as continued support for the drive to net zero and the delivery of a mixed portfolio of clean energy generation. 

“Above all, the new government must not repeat the mistakes of the past, as when capital spending on infrastructure was subject to short-termist cuts in the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. This ultimately proved to be self-defeating, as growth stalled, skills were lost to the industry, and the strategic value of many schemes was such that they ultimately were re-procured at greater cost.” 

Richard Robinson, Atkins CEO, UK & Europe, said: “Cost of living is clearly a priority for the new PM, and we watch with interest as she sets out short terms plans to tackle energy prices and rising inflation.  

“Longer term plans to grow the economy will require more certainty around infrastructure spend, and credible policies that will allow our industry to develop solutions to help the UK meet its ambitious net zero targets. 

“With increased clarity and confidence our industry can then invest in the skills, technology and innovation needed as the UK looks to emerge stronger from these challenging times, while leading the transition to clean energy and decarbonised infrastructure.” 

Christophe Junillon, managing director of Atkins nuclear & power, EMEA, said: “The security and affordability of our energy supply is front and centre of our cost-of-living crisis: the acceleration of net zero energy projects is urgently needed to deliver a secure, affordable and resilient supply for the future. 

“To meet the UK’s net zero targets and ensure a secure and resilient energy supply in the future, the UK’s electricity generation build rate must increase five-fold. We urgently need to build more energy generation and supporting  infrastructure than ever before. 

“We look forward to working with government to help speed up the development of low carbon technology and maximise investment in new nuclear to prevent a short-term energy crisis becoming a long-term problem for our country.”  

Colin Wood, AECOM chief executive for Europe and India, said: “The new prime minister is to lead a country which, in economic terms, is set to face one of the toughest winters in living history. Rising inflation and the energy price shock will mean that many people have to make difficult decisions about how to spend their money. It is a crisis for which infrastructure is one of the paths to recovery.

“Our message to the incoming prime minister is not new, but it needs reiterating: investment in both big ticket infrastructure projects as well as smaller regional and local schemes is critical. For example, we won’t be able to achieve an affordable, sustainable and secure energy supply and reach net zero without significant investment in energy infrastructure, such as offshore renewables.

“To grow the economy and to level up, the infrastructure sector can do more than build, it can design with outcomes for community, value and sustainability at a scheme’s heart. Encouraging innovation and harnessing new technologies will be critical to developing infrastructure which allows people to optimise how they choose to live and work in their local communities. 

“Sustainable, well-insulated, fit-for-purpose homes that are connected by safe, reliable public transport choices is integral to growing our economies across the UK, focusing on the creation of jobs, skills and economic prosperity in those regions that need it the most.

“Liz Truss has laid out her vision for an ‘aspiration nation’ full of opportunity, with local areas revitalised the same way as London Docklands. Encouragingly, she has already committed to delivering the ‘full fat’ Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which will drive investment and growth in major northern cities. At the same time tackling the cost of energy is central to her plans. Industry is ready and set, with the skills and knowledge to deliver this.

“As an industry, we understand the immediate pressures on the public purse and that people will need short term, quick fixes to help alleviate the cost of living crisis. But we implore the new prime minister to invest in the long term too with a clear pipeline of deliverable projects and empower the industry to build resilient infrastructure which gets to the root of many of our problems.”

Jamie Holmes, CEO of VU.CITY, said: “With Liz Truss’s accession to prime minister finally confirmed, her biggest challenge is still ahead of her - winning over red wall voters and maintaining a Conservative majority in the next general election.

“Levelling up featured in neither candidates’ campaigns and reneging on promises to ‘level up’ left-behind towns and cities, coupled with a spate of political scandals, is the perfect recipe for distrust and disillusionment. Creating a disconnect between politicians and voters could make the Conservatives fundamentally unelectable, marking the end of their 12-year reign.

“The Conservative Party must heal the rifts created by the leadership battle. The government needs to sharply refocus on levelling up or risk breaking the trust of the nation for good.”

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