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General Election 2019: Party promises – how do they measure up?

28/11/2019

What the main political parties promise for housing, infrastructure and devolution.

It’s just two weeks until the General Election and the countdown has well and truly begun. Political parties across the spectrum have released their manifestos to voters, declaring the policies that they aim to put in place should they be successful in forming a government.

But although it has become known as the ‘Brexit Election’, candidates and voters mustn't lose sight of the other issues that are critical to our society and the success of UK Plc. Policies for our built environment and plans for the devolution of power to our councils, enabling them to deliver, are vitally important to voters up and down the country. To see how the main political parties compare, I have evaluated policies and promises for housing, infrastructure and devolution.

Housing

All three parties have committed to increasing the number of social homes. Labour has promised to deliver a new social housebuilding programme of more than a million homes over the next decade, while the Liberal Democrats said they would build at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year. The Conservative commitments, on the other hand, were less specific – committing to bring forward a Social Housing White Paper which will set out measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes.

Housing is one of the biggest bones of contention for voters and a top priority for councils. Despite the majority of current funding going to housing associations, just 5,447 homes for social rent were built during the past year. But over a million families are registered on the social housing waiting list. Plans to empower councils to build social housing themselves will cause a housing revolution and be an important step to meeting demand. In 1977, when councils were still responsible for new social housing, 121,000 homes were built.

The last General Election saw concern over housing reach the highest level amongst voters since 1974. Particularly among 18 to 34-year olds. Since the election was called, there have been 3.2 million applications to register, an average of 114,000 per day, and about two thirds are age 32 or under. Clearly, housing has the potential to be a huge deciding factor – so it is a crisis that no politician should be allowed to ignore.

Infrastructure

Labour and the Conservatives both say that they want to take advantage of historically low interest rates to spend more on transport, hospitals and other infrastructure projects. Labour has promised "investment on a scale never seen before" to overhaul infrastructure in all areas of the UK. While the Conservative party has committed to invest £100 billion in additional infrastructure spending – including road, rail and other responsible and productive investment which will repair and refurbish the fabric of the country and encourage greater long-term growth.

Notably, Labour has committed to deliver the full HS2 route to Scotland, while the Conservative party has pledged to consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome.

What is apparent from the ‘war on spending’ is the huge disconnect between both Labour and the Conservatives and what is happening on the ground.

Mark Robinson
Scape Group Chief Executive

‘Shovel ready’ projects take years to prepare and snap decision-making will likely see us making unwise commitments to projects that will become nonviable down the line. The next government needs to take a holistic view when assessing projects to ensure that they are high quality, cost-effective and delivering social value.

However, none of this will be possible without the manpower to deliver and our industry is facing a cliff edge regarding access to skilled EU workers, who still account of a large proportion of the industry. To combat this, the Conservatives have pledged to invest £3 billion in a National Skills Fund to reverse the decline in entry level apprenticeships in the sector. While Labour has announced a new climate apprenticeship programme to deliver 320,000 apprenticeships in England alone during the first term of a Labour government. Although the main focus is to help the UK transition to a green economy, it will specifically offer training for future construction workers. But while I welcome the proposed investment to upskill from both parties, I urge future policymaker to consider how they will proactively attract young people into the sector.

Devolution

The next Government must commit to ongoing devolution deals for local councils, which contain the strategic planning powers and the skills funding, that can bolster infrastructure delivery from the bottom up. Greater freedom must be given to local authorities to allow their local visions to take shape, allowing the UK’s regional hubs the opportunity to compete on the global stage.

The Liberal Democrats have committed to this concept wholeheartedly, by promising to devolve funding powers to English regions as a way of rebalancing the UK economy. While Boris Johnson says he will build on the successful devolution of powers to city region mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and others, so that every part of our country has the power to shape its destiny, promising to publish an English Devolution White Paper setting out our plans next year.

The incoming Government must continue to move forward with easing austerity measures, as well as continuing with its commitment to a strong regional devolution agenda, better equipping the country to improve productivity and develop the infrastructure and new homes that are needed.

Whichever party or parties emerge victorious on the 13th December, we desperately need them to be more than a one-trick pony. Finalising the details for Brexit is crucial, but many other policy areas which have been largely ignored for the past three years also need to be brought back into the debate.

Written by:

Mark Robinson

Group Chief Executive
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