The construction industry is facing yet another upheaval as the results of the General Election see the Conservatives scrabbling to create a coalition government
Last night saw a number of Conservative defeats including Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, who lost his Croydon Central seat to Labour candidate Sarah Jones. Barwell was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government in July 2016. Like his predecessors, his tenure in the role was short-lived and his loss will see yet another housing minister in place once the dust settles.
For the construction section the result of last night’s vote is something of a mixed bag. Uncertainty caused by the Conservatives losing their majority stake in parliament will unsettle an industry that has already been stirred by Brexit.
So what impact will this election have on construction?
While it’s not possible to know for sure what will happen Brendan Sharkey, head of MHA MacIntyre Hudson’s Property & Construction sector, said it is likely house prices will stagnant, if not fall, following the result.
Housing remains a key topic and one that was the focus of both party’s campaigns. Undoubtedly it will continue to be an area that will develop once the new government is in place.
In particular there are concerns about what changes could mean for policy such as the Housing White paper. Sharkey expressed hope that this would continue to be developed.
“The Conservatives white paper, “Fixing our Broken Housing Market”, was very much the heartbeat of their election manifesto with a few tweaks towards more intervention with local authorities. The white paper was not considered revolutionary, but it was recognised as a genuine attempt to deal with the housing shortage.”
He added: “Both the Conservatives and Labour recognised the need to build new homes and the only difference between them was how many, and by when. The Conservatives out-bid Labour by committing to build 1 million homes by 2020, with an additional 500,000 by 2022. Such targets are unlikely to be met while we have this political vacuum.
“The construction industry is forever plagued by leadership and policy changes as most infrastructure projects cross over elections, meaning there is never clear water to steer towards.”
Greg Hill, Deputy Chief Executive at housebuilder Hill said the nation must continue to invest and build new homes, irrespective of the political landscape.
“No business likes uncertainty and housebuilders like it least of all,” he said.
“This hung parliament and the horse-trading that will take place over housing policy to get a coalition in place means that many housebuilders will hit the pause button on their investment decisions.
“This is the exact wrong moment for a construction slow down. The country needs new homes desperately.
“We hope that the negotiations are concluded rapidly so that the new government is in place and ready to work with the sector to go out and get building.”
One area that has been a concern for the sector was skills shortages in the wake of Brexit. A hard Brexit would leave many construction firms unable to recruit the workers needed to complete major infrastructure projects. However, the terms of the negotiations may be relaxed under the newly formed government. This could mean a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ may not occur now and this could help the sector.
“The good news is that the hard Brexit fundamentals may be softened, reducing the concern over an adequate labour supply to build the housing we need,” Sharkey said.
“The sheer cost of moving along with lower net incomes due to inflation and job insecurity could also mean more extension and refurbishment work for the SME builders.”
For housebuilders, the election could cause difficulties as investors may adopt a wait-and-see approach until negotiations are complete and a new government in place.