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Industrial Strategy | Industry reaction

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The government has published its first Industrial Strategy for decades in a bid to boost productivity and maximise the country’s potential.

One of the four key areas which the strategy is to focus on is construction, but what does the industry think of its new sector deal? What impact will it have and more importantly, will it work?

Here’s how the industry reacted.

Being the first

The new construction sector deal was described as a “major milestone” by Turner & Townsend head of infrastructure south and UK commercial services David Whysall. He said being part of the first tranche of sector deals showed the government not only recognised the “huge contribution” the industry made to the economy, but also the major challenges it faced.

Whysall said the industry had struggled to reinvent itself and improve performance because of its “fragmented supply chains, coupled with its highly cyclical nature and low margins”.

However, he said he saw the new deal as a call to action for the whole industry, setting a clear agenda for change.

Focusing on outcomes and skills

WSP executive director, strategic growth Paul Tremble agreed that the government had recognised the challenges and said it had “clearly listened to industry” in developing the strategy.

Tremble welcomed the focus on outcomes, and said ideas to address the “structural issues” the country faced, especially in terms of infrastructure and skills was the right approach.

“We welcome the shift from championing individual technologies to embracing and incentivising whole systems approach,” said Tremble. … “WSP also welcomes the announcement of a Construction Sector Deal, and its focus on whole life value, skills and better procurement standards.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said it was encouraging news the government had highlighted the construction sector as one “primed to drive economic growth” and also welcomed the steps towards improving innovation and skills.

“We believe the UK economy will grow if we take steps to boost productivity and drive innovation. We must also work to ensure that the current workforce in the infrastructure sector is upskilled, and sufficient new entrants are attracted to the industry, to deliver the government’s planned pipeline of investment.

Brexit

The idea for the new Industrial Strategy was announced five months after the referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union (EU). At the time, prime minister Theresa May said the result of the referendum gave a “once-in-a-generation chance to shape a new future for our nation: the chance to build a stronger, fairer country”. Many now see this new approach as a way to try and smooth the transition as Britain leaves the EU.

“Government must work with industry to ensure the challenges facing our sector are addressed,” said Hemming. “Get it right and we could see our roads, rail, and utilities acting as a springboard for a resurgent economy, which will secure the economic health of UK plc after we leave the European Union.”

More than just hot air

Overall, the industry welcomed the deal, but said the government now had to follow through on its promises and make sure any actions were not contradictory to each other.

“With productivity and growth forecasts down, the strategy was not a luxury, but a necessity and we hope as much energy and enthusiasm is deployed to deliver it as has been used to develop it,” said Tremble.

London First economic policy director David Lutton agreed and said the industrial strategy would be a good thing, but the version presented risked “being nothing more than hot air.”

He said recognising the importance of the digital economy while “slapping a business rate increase on digital infrastructure made no sense.

“To grow the UK economy, we need to start making the right decisions and the best way to do this is for central government to loosen its iron grip on the UK’s purse strings; enabling cities and regions to prioritise the investments that will drive growth across the country,” said Lutton.

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