Prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed his government’s commitment to using construction to help rebuild the economy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
He has pledged to fund 40 new hospitals and provide large-scale investment in roads and rail projects.
A statement from Downing Street said the government was committed to an immediate £5bn package of capital investment in infrastructure projects, although some of those specifically named – such as a £1.2bn spend on schools – had been announced before, including in the Infrastructure and Project Authority’s pipeline of planned projects two weeks ago.
Johnson said a taskforce called ‘Project Speed’ would be set up to “scythe through red tape” and get projects delivered faster and hinted at changes to procurement rules to speed up appointments.
He said: “With every flood-defending culvert that we dig, with every railway station, hospital or school that we build, we will of course be tackling the next wave of this crisis by helping to create thousands of high-paid, high-skilled jobs.
“Because we know in our hearts that the furloughing cannot go on forever, and as the economy recovers we also know that the jobs that many people had in January are also not coming back or at least not in that form; we know that is the biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face.”
A long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy is due to be released in the autumn, Downing Street confirmed.
Balfour Beatty chief executive Leo Quinn welcomed Johnson’s speech: “The prime minister’s commitment to accelerate the UK’s long-term infrastructure pipeline is a critical factor for the country’s recovery. As well as stimulating regional and national economies, it will generate vast employment opportunities across the country and help provide our younger generations with employable skills. Without this, following the fallout from COVID-19, we could see widespread structural unemployment issues,” he said.
But Pinsent Masons infrastructure partner Jon Hart warned that the “eye-catching” commitments lack substance. He said: “The previously announced ‘pipeline’ contains a number of anomalies in respect of projects that have already been announced.
“During such an economically turbulent time, the government needs to remove uncertainty around approaches to procurement, particularly for schools and hospitals,” he added. “It will be interesting to see how tendering processes can be sped up and how the public-sector capacity gap within government for procuring schemes, when coupled with the industry’s own skills shortage, is going to be addressed.”
Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry called for the repair and maintenance sector not to be overlooked in government investment plans, and called for a VAT cut to boost that market.
UK Green Building Council chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said there needs to be more investment in specific measures to hit net-zero carbon emissions targets by 2050. She said: “The plans announced by the PM today make no reference to energy efficiency – perhaps the most urgent of all infrastructure priorities – that can create jobs right around the country, improve health and reduce costs to NHS, and increase consumer spending power by lowering energy bills.”
Source: Construction News