Civil engineers turned their backs on the Conservatives this week amid fears that the party would scrap Crossrail and cut the most out of public sector projects if it won next week’s General Election.
Last week NCE asked more than 100 London-based civil engineering consultants who they thought would best represent them in government and who they were voting for in the General Election.
Only 15% said they would vote Conservative, with many citing the party’s recent indecision over London’s £15.9bn Crossrail scheme as a reason not to vote Conservative.
Of the 60 people who gave a firm response 24% said they would vote Labour. Nineteen per cent said they would vote Liberal Democrat and 27% were undecided.
Despite backing Crossrail in principle, the Conservatives continue to send mixed messages about its future under a Tory government.
Who is best for civil engineering?
“I’d vote Conservative − their approach to industry is more capital minded. Capital gives you the freedom to create things, which benefits big projects and the infrastructure sector”
Wieslaw Kaleta, Senior engineer
Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson has firmly and consistently thrown his weight behind the project and the party’s election manifesto echoes shadow chancellor George Osborne’s comments earlier this year that the party “supports Crossrail”.
But last week Conservative shadow London spokesman Justine Greening told a live radio interview that the party could not guarantee Crossrail’s future (News last week).
“I can’t give a guarantee that it [Crossrail] will continue,” she said, adding that the Conservatives could not give “a line by line budget on projects across government, including Crossrail”. Labour has committed to completing the scheme in its manifesto.
Civil engineers told NCE that the lack of clarity from the Conservatives had lost them their votes.
“I would vote for Labour, because they are committed to big infrastructure projects like Crossrail,” said structural engineer Jeng Neo.
“[The best party for engineers is] Labour or Liberal Democrat, the other parties are only interested in public spending cuts”
Dimitry Gaugio, Civil engineer
Mechanical engineer Samuel Thompson agreed that the employment created by the scheme was the main reason he was voting Labour. “The Conservatives seem to want to get rid of Crossrail, which is what I’m heavily involved in,” he said.
At its construction peak Crossrail is expected to employ around 14,000 people. “That’s 14,000 less votes the Tories are going to get,” one engineer told NCE’s website.
Design engineer Adam Chapman said he had decided against voting Conservative as a result of Greening’s comments. “I was supporting the Conservatives until [they put into doubt] Crossrail,” he said. “Now I’m not sure.”
NCE’s online election poll has also seen the weight of opinion swing towards Labour. Two weeks ago, 47% of those taking part backed the Conservatives and 31% backed Labour.
Last week the lead was cut to four percentage points, with 37% backing the Tories and 33% backing Labour.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in power it depends on the engineering firm and the lobbyist. It is up to us (engineers) to influence.”
Arman Farahmand-Razavi, Transport planning associate director
Earlier this week the Labour vote had strengthened further to see the party take the lead for the first time with 36% of the vote against the Conservatives’ 33% and Liberal Democrats’ 22%.
Civil engineers NCE spoke to said the issue went wider than Crossrail. ” [Labour has] got a commitment to Crossrail which is very good,” said principal civil/ structural engineer Ian Owen. “But they’ve also got a bit more of a vision for the growth of transport in this country.”
The issue of rail investment was generally seen as a deciding factor, with each of the three main parties attracting interest because of their manifesto Crossrail backlash pledges on large programmes such as high speed rail and electrification.
Many engineers also expressed fears over the perception that the Tories will instigate widespread public sector cuts. They said that spending on public sector projects was key to who they would vote for as engineers.
They said they were likely to favour the Liberal Democrats and Labour as the parties most likely to maintain investment.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has calculated that the Conservatives will make the biggest public spending cuts. It believes they will cut £59bn up to 2014/15 while Labour will cut £47bn and the Liberal Democrats £43bn.
One traditional Conservative supporter conceded that Labour had spent well over the last 13 years. “To be fair, Labour has generated a fair amount of public sector business,” said senior consultant Peter Harris. “But in terms of public service expenditure, it has not been money well spent.”
The Green Party emerged as the most popular of the non-mainstream parties, with 3% of engineers surveyed this week saying they would vote Green. Its manifesto promises a massive £20bn government-funded programme to cut emissions by investing in green energy paid for by tax hikes.
Other engineers said they were simply glad that the election was nearly over, as clients are currently unable to plan spending.
“I’m happy that after over a year of expectation, an election has at last been called and whoever wins we’ll have a government which can think further forward than five minutes,” said ICE vice president Geoff French.
“We are all expecting an emergency budget in June, and then we can regroup and deal with whatever that deals us.”
NCE’s survey was carried out on Thursday and Friday by the NCE reporters Jo Stimpson, Declan Lynch, Martina Booth, Tom Fielden and Natalie Hardwick.
Greens to raise taxes to Fund Carbon reduction schemes
The Green Party would set about achieving an annual carbon dioxide emissions reduction target of 10%, with the aim of cutting emissions to 35% of 1990 levels by 2020 and to 10% of 1990 levels by 2030.
Cutting energy use and reducing the emissions from transport are central to this plan. It would introduce a “massive” programme of direct government investment in large scale wind power and other renewable energy sources, spending £20bn over five years and creating 80,000 jobs in installation and equipment manufacture.
This would allow Britain to get half its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and result in zero emissions from power generation by 2030.
The Greens would phase out nuclear power and resolutely oppose construction of new nuclear power stations. They would also ban further investment in new coalfuelled power stations.
On transport they would strip £30bn from the roads budget over 10 years and spend the money on public transport.
This would include re-regulating and subsidising bus services, opening additional stations on existing rail routes and building new light rapid transit systems.
The Greens would also axe the privately financed Tube upgrade programme and return it to public ownership. They would also support in principle a new north-south high speed rail line and “if necessary” work towards the introduction of road pricing schemes like London’s congestion charge.