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Analysis | More uncertainty ahead of the election?

ballot box

The UK is facing its third major poll in just over two years as prime minister Theresa May’s snap general election again puts the country on pause while politicians battle it out over the next seven weeks.

But what does this mean for the civil engineering sector and the pipeline of contract awards and infrastructure decisions?

Just as major UK projects were starting to gather pace, there’s concern that important decisions will be delayed.

When the election was announced, Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Resiner said an election next month would create ”a climate of uncertainty for those who invest in and build the infrastructure we depend on.”

This is because of purdah, the time between the start of the election and the results where central and local government are banned from making any decisions that could be seen to favour a political party.

“There’s generally no effect for projects that are already approved and underway because the normal rules of purdah allow the executive end of government to get on,” said KPMG UK infrastructure partner Richard Threlfall. “Where there’s a nervousness is around things that need a ministerial decision, which are likely to be delayed during the purdah period.”

Threlfall pointed out there could also be slowdown after the election while the new government settles in.

We don’t yet know what the new government will look like, although political pundits are saying a Conservative victory is a safe bet.

The industry has been expecting a couple of big decisions to get the go-ahead in the near future. These are Crossrail 2, and possibly the rubber stamping of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. Whoever makes up the government’s new cabinet could want to review these decisions, just as May’s new government wanted to review its backing for Hinkley Point C last year. Also in the new government’s in box, and on a slightly longer timescale, is the last piece of the jigsaw for the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link second phase to agree. This revolves around the Sheffield route.

Alongside green lights for major projects, there are some big value contracts that are due to be awarded, although HS2 Ltd says it was never going to award the £11.8bn main civils works contract before June 8 anyway. On a smaller scale, the industry says procurement will carry on as usual. Highways England says the work is operational, and is not therefore covered by the purdah period. It might not publicly announce the awards, but the pipeline of work will continue as normal.

So while the politicians battle it out, for engineers it is business as usual.

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