The autumn statement – a golden opportunity to build confidence

  • 19 Oct 2016

Guest Blog: Martin Townsend, Director of Sustainability at BRE Global

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his first Autumn Statement to Parliament next month. This is a golden opportunity for the government to set the tone for its relationship with British business, by pulling out all the stops to support investment, infrastructure improvements, and business confidence. But what are we likely to hear?

Based on the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility for the economy and public finances, the Autumn statement will be an important glimpse to understand the direction that the Government is taking particularly for the construction industry. Announced on the 23rd November, it will be Mr Hammond’s first statement as the newly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. So the question is what can we expect from him? 

Well he has already stated that a shift in economic policy is needed to see the UK through ‘a period of turbulence and uncertainty’. He has also come out in support of the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid who at the Conservative Party annual conference in Birmingham earlier this month, announcing a package of new measures to build more houses, more quickly, in places people want to live. These measures include the launch of a £3bn Home Building Fund to help to build more than 25,000 new homes this Parliament and up to 225,000 in the longer term; direct action to fix the housing market, using public land and £2bn of investment to encourage the building of up to 15,000 homes; and ringing forward urban regeneration and levelling the playing field between brownfield and greenfield development to regenerate inner cities.

Early indicators seem to point to a commitment to the construction industry but it is important that we see fresh thinking and new ideas and not a statement that is a rehash of previous statements from George Osbourne. What we need is something that gives the industry confidence and ensure that we see a debate driven by quality and quantity, which we may not get if you listen to the underlying currents of Mr Javid’s announcement which seem to infer the government is looking to build cheaper houses in greater density to reach its target of building a million new homes by 2020.

We also need to think long term, not short. Sustainability, with energy efficiency being a prime motivator, needs to be front and centre. When talking to a well- respected architect and developer in the housing sector, their response was a simple and clear one – all new homes need to generate at least 70% of their energy demand from onsite or near site solution. The question is how are we going to achieve this without any mandate?

Although there has been a heavy emphasis in the past on large scale infrastructure projects, there will need to be investment and faster sign- off of projects which give rapid delivery, to take us through the more immediate period of uncertainty and to build more confidence in internal markets. The Home Builders Fund will provide £1bn of short term loan funding that will be used for small builders and custom builders to deliver 25,500 homes by 2020 but it will also include £2bn of long-term funding for infrastructure. So fingers crossed, major infrastructure investment will continue.

However I believe that key to driving this success will be the new industrial strategy. Business Secretary Greg Clark stated that a successful industrial framework ‘has to be local’ and warned that ‘for too long government policy has treated everywhere like it is identical’. This is something that was reinforced at the recent Telegraph Britain’s Smart Cities conference where the strong message was that change, innovation and reform was being driven at local level, often under the radar.

BRE has argued that for a new industrial framework to be successful we need to ensure that any strategy drives UK innovation. A process of driving innovation and market transformation has been at the heart of BREEAM, BRE’s internationally recognised measure of sustainability for buildings and communities, for many years. Innovation is one of the UK’s strongest assets and in a time of mass uncertainty, we need to remind everyone of just what we are good at and what we can achieve.

Next month’s statement is a chance for the Government to restore some stability and set out a long term, robust plan. The question is what is the plan and we will see what I believe are the fundamental attributes of quantity, quality and innovation. Time will tell.

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