UPDATED! Industry welcomes new PM but calls for continued investment

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

UPDATED! 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 became prime minister after defeating Rishi Sunak in the Conservative Party leadership contest.

A widespread cabinet reshuffle has seen key industry posts go to Kwasi Kwarteng (chancellor) Jacob Rees-Mogg (business, energy and industrial strategy), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (transport), Simon Clarke (levelling up, housing and communities), Ranil Jayawardena (environment, food and rural affairs), Kemi Badenoch (international trade), Chris Heaton-Harris (Northern Ireland), Alister Jack (Scotland), Robert Buckland (Wales), while Alok Sharma remains as COP26 president. 

Industry figures welcomed the new prime minister and cabinet, 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.

Here’s just a brief updated selection of initial industry reaction received by 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.”  

Mark Naysmith, CEO for WSP UK & EMEA, said: “WSP congratulates Liz Truss on her appointment as prime minister of the United Kingdom and wishes her every success for her tenure. Given the huge challenges facing the country presently, clear and decisive leadership is needed to steer the UK through what is a very difficult time for many people.

“Through its Future Ready approach to design and project delivery, WSP is well positioned to support the government in its work to decarbonise our economy, transform the UK’s energy supply to one that is green and sustainable, and deliver growth and prosperity into communities across the country through its ongoing commitment and delivery of the National Infrastructure Strategy.”

Patricia Moore, UK managing director at Turner & Townsend, said: “The biggest and most immediate item in the new prime minister’s in-tray will be reassuring households and business over the looming energy crisis. Sky high bills will not only push people into hardship but also present further risks to major projects from new energy generation to public infrastructure – which will exacerbate the problems long term. 

“This is a moment to be bold and not just to solve the immediate symptoms, but to tackle the underlying causes too. For our industry the focus must not just be on this winter, but the next and the one after that. We need the infrastructure to guarantee a secure, sustainable energy mix, both in terms of generation and transmission across the country and beyond.

“We also need an industry capable of retrofitting homes, offices, and public buildings to achieve net zero and reduce energy consumption to lower bills and to deliver our long term green objectives. Especially against headwinds of inflation, and an undersupply of the new skills needed, the government must use it’s pivotal position to solve these problems. Recognising the crucial importance that construction plays in solving the country’s challenges by supporting and setting the agenda of industry transformational change.

“This is a must if we want to ensure that major projects are financeable, deliverable and capable of driving economic growth, tackling regional inequalities and keeping the country on track to meet its net zero targets.”

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.”

Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis, said: “In unpredictable times, the election of Liz Truss to lead the Tory party was entirely predictable. It’s more interesting to predict what her early moves in government will be. On one hand, her instinct will clearly lean towards her laissez-faire, low tax/small government, ‘let the market decide’ credo that mirrors her political role model Margaret Thatcher. On the other, she has already trailed massive and early action on domestic energy bills that rivals the interventionalism of the pandemic measures and hints at a government ready to go ‘all-in’ to solving the cost of living crisis.

“It is unsurprising and right that the PM should act to soften the impact of the cost of living crisis. Doing so whilst delivering much promised tax cuts, however, leaves public expenditure and investment in growth looking vulnerable as the Treasury strives to save the money to fund the tax cuts in advance of growth. If we are to unleash the UK’s potential for growth and attraction of global investment, we must continue to invest in skills, infrastructure & a low carbon economy whilst promoting our credentials as a reliable trading partner.

“The best way that the new PM can secure the country’s long-term economic future is to continue to work with business and our international partners to invest in the skills, infrastructure and rules-based business environment that will deliver reliable, sustainable growth. Low taxes and de-regulation are important and have their place but we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that they are, in themselves, a solution.”

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.”

Matthew Ace, director of Hydrock, said: “While it became apparent over the past few weeks that Liz Truss has won the hearts and minds of the Conservative membership, winning over the rest of the UK – and that means across all four nations – will be an uphill battle.

“Since the leadership contest began in early July, neither of the two frontrunners have offered any indication they have a sound plan to work with the devolved government in Wales. If anything, both Truss and Sunak have used their campaigns as a way of criticising the Welsh government with disparaging comments and Conservative scepticism of devolution. This has been a staple of successive governments and occupants of Number 10, and remains a short-sighted tactic. Truss should now quickly turn her attention towards a strategy of collaboration with The Senedd to address the cost-of-living crisis, support levelling up and stimulate investment in Wales."

Danny Crump, director of urbanism at Broadway Malyan, said: “Who knows what will happen to Boris’ promised ‘levelling up’ under new leadership. Truss must focus where the British people live, work and play. While the high street has suffered a decline in recent years, a new system of devolved regional planning control could revolutionise town and city centres across the north-west, Yorkshire and the north-east, and could mark the foundation on which our most disaffected regions are rebuilt.”

Professor Joe Howe, chair of the North West Hydrogen Alliance and professor of energy at the University of Chester, said: “Congratulations to Liz Truss becoming new prime minister. Both she and Jacob Rees-Mogg will have immediate pressing tasks at a time of such economic uncertainty. The government has in recent years championed the role of decarbonisation in creating jobs, future-proofing British industries, and cutting consumer bills. However, there are several initiatives that require the PM’s immediate attention to ensure valuable time and momentum is not lost.

“The new UK government must ramp up its action on climate change – and central to this should be driving the hydrogen economy forward. We are calling for the new government to double down on ambitions and affirm their commitments to investment in green energy, accelerate net zero commitments, and ensure the stability of the hydrogen policy. This will provide confidence in the public and private sectors to get major infrastructure projects off the ground, in turn increasing energy security.”

Simon McWhirter, director of communications, policy and places at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said: “The new prime minister is right to promise emergency action to deal with soaring energy bills.

“It is vital that Liz Truss tackles energy waste as well as low-carbon supply in her long-term plan if she’s going to get a grip on costs. Homes, businesses, and public buildings are already paying over the odds for heat to leak from every uninsulated window, wall, roof and door. Without a major energy efficiency drive, an emergency subsidy package would mean the government will also have to foot the bill for years to come.

“The prime minister can fix many problems by announcing a national programme to upgrade our buildings and shift our heating systems from gas to renewable energy. Not only will it reduce the need for government borrowing, the skilled jobs and economic boost this would bring would make a real contribution to levelling up and national recovery.

“Next on the prime minister’s agenda must be to gets to grips with the opportunities and challenges which lie within the built environment industry. Despite being the cause of some of the most pressing environmental and social issues confronting the UK, and the second largest source of carbon emissions, no significant progress has been made towards decarbonising the country’s buildings in a decade.

“Liz Truss said she wants to get spades in the ground and build hospitals, schools and homes. With hundreds of thousands of new homes and buildings planned over the coming years, we must also urgently stop allowing new development which is not fit for net zero and will inevitably need retrofitting in the future to meet our climate goals and to adapt to heatwaves, floods and drought. The Future Homes and Buildings Standard, set to be introduced in 2025, is one short-term opportunity to move in the right direction, yet proposals to date are woefully inadequate. 

“Finally, our planning system needs an overhaul to reliably deliver the kind of new development we all want - sustainable, quality homes, buildings and infrastructure that are well connected and in the right places. That is why UKGBC is calling on Truss to amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to bring the English planning system into line with the UK’s climate commitments and nature recovery goals. 

“The building industry stands ready to support the new prime minister and government to deliver these national priorities."

Jo Field, president of Women in Transport, said: “At Women in Transport we hope to see Liz Truss, as the third woman in UK history to become prime minister, use her position of influence to focus on gender inequalities. Until women are present in the room and their voices are heard across industries, women will continue to be held back from achieving their potential.

“We hope helping the transport sector recover from the pandemic will be a high priority for the new government, and as the latest figures from Transport for London show Tube ridership at 95% of pre-pandemic levels, it shows demand is continuing to increase.

“Helping the transport sector continue to recover from the pandemic also enables the creation of more roles in greener transport. Our recent gender perceptions and experiences survey found many of our members saw sustainable transport solutions as being key to the future of transport, with women having a crucial role to play in driving these solutions forward.  

“We also urge the new prime minister to deal with the cost of living crisis that is causing great concern for many of our members and women across the country. Financial support needs to be provided to ensure women are not disproportionately affected by rising costs."

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