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Election 2017 | A new week, a new setback?

Palace of westminster 2by3 deffo 2by3

The frustration was palpable from the civil engineering sector when it woke up on Friday morning to the news that there would be a hung parliament.

But as we enter a new week of continued political instability – not the strong and stable result prime minister Theresa May had hoped to achieve – where does this leave civil engineers and the projects they are trying to deliver?

There is genuine disappointment that the immediate effect is likely to be a delay in big decisions on infrastructure projects. Yesterday’s (Sunday) reshuffle left many posts, including Chancellor Philip Hammond and Chris Grayling as transport secretary, unchanged and offering projects some continuity. However the medium to long term picture remains uncertain.

Crossrail 2, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, Heathrow, HS2 – everyone behind these projects is itching to get to work.

Tidal Lagoon Power’s Swansea Bay chair and former Atkins chief executive Keith Clarke said on Friday that the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon pathfinder project urgently needs a decision on its future from a steady government.

“Our economy can’t carry on with a complete vacuum of decisions. We will not be a strong and stable economy: we need government to have policies and get on with it,” he said.

His evident weariness at the latest delay in big infrastructure decisions was echoed in comments from bodies and firms including the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Aecom and Arup.

“Our most recent member survey showed orders dropping for infrastructure contractors for the first quarter since 2013. A lack of clear leadership in Westminster creates a real risk that this potential future downturn will become entrenched due to an inability to get vital decisions over the line,” said CECA director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming.

But almost 72 hours later and the mood is softening, with some positivity towards a longer term benefit for the sector from the election result. There have been significant concerns raised within the industry about a hard Brexit brining on a skills crisis for the sector. Friday’s result could change that.

Arup director Tim Chapman noted that it reduces the risk of a hard Brexit.

KPMG infrastructure director Richard Threlfall pointed out that there is generally a political consensus around the big infrastructure projects.

He said: “I know the consensus view will be to regard a hung Parliament as a bad result, in general and for infrastructure. But given the choice between that and a government hurtling for hard Brexit – or a government trying to turn the clock back to the 1960s – I think personally it is a great outcome which will hopefully moderate some of the more extreme policies set out in manifestos. A bit of delay here and there will be a small price to pay for that.”

It is said a week is a long time in politics, but it is nothing for the engineers who have already been waiting months for project decisions – and will now have to wait even longer.

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