July 20, 2024

Has the Chancellor got the Autumn Statement right? The UK construction industry reacts…

Although experts are still sifting through its implications, if anything concrete can be drawn from Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement at this early stage, it’s that it has perfectly polarised opinion across the construction sector, with seemingly a negative reaction for every positive response. Here we gather the thoughts of a wide cross-section of the industry in an attempt to gauge what the general consensus is.

Richard Jones, Head of Residential and Regeneration at Arcadis: “Government needs to stop paying “lip service” to the housing emergency. What we need is a co-ordinated approach to the problem rather than just rolling out initiative after initiative. We need to look at what building 200,000 homes a year would look like from a need perspective and ensure that any new policy helps deliver this. It will invariably show that a large proportion of new housing will need to be intermediate or private rent, so Government policy should help to support this through the prioritising of public sector land to certain tenure groups, buy-as-you-rent initiatives, planning amendments and a supportive tax regime.

“With rental products being counter-cyclical this should create an environment that encourages investment in ‘smart homes’, which will ease the skills shortage as well as drive efficiency into a sector which has historically been very inefficient. This, combined with the welcome increase in spending around essential infrastructure to unlock unviable sites, will begin to address the blight of insufficient housing numbers.”

Tom Willows, Managing Associate at Bond Dickinson: “The Chancellor announced that lettings agents will no-longer be able to charge fees to tenants and we could potentially see those costs passed onto the landlords or the tenants.

“Agents fees payable by tenants were banned in Scotland in 2012 and market research by Shelter has indicated that rents have not been increased by landlords as a result. Instead competition increased between agents, allowing landlords to shop around for the best deal, so it remains to be seen whether it will have a real impact on the market.”

Nigel Emmerson, Partner and Head of the PRS team at Bond Dickinson: “The failure to drop the SDLT surcharge will come as disappointing news to the purpose-built rented sector. The SDLT surcharge is oft-cited as an obstacle to investment being made in the sector. The Chancellor has missed the opportunity to give the kick start to the build to rent sector that so many have been waiting for.”

Ian Cass, Chief Executive of the Forum of Private Business: “The initiatives to support house builders will be good for those businesses in the construction sector, and its supply chain, and importing manufacturers who are suffering at the hands of the weak pound, and who have no real indication of what a post Brexit UK will look like.

“It is a pity that the Chancellor did not take the opportunity to change the dividend threshold from the existing five per cent to ten per cent as suggested in our ten point plan, and that the planned reduction in Corporation Tax to 15 per cent, promoted by George Osborne in his final budget, does not appear to have been formerly confirmed by Philip Hammond. This would have gone some way to compensating for the difficulties that some businesses are now facing. It is really disappointing that he has opted for caution over stimulus.

“Small businesses find it very difficult to attract the talent that they need to succeed, and a reinforcement of the Apprenticeship agenda would have been a move in the right direction. As we read through the finer detail over the coming days we hope that there will be some recognition of this. Not having it as a major issue to be addressed is disappointing.

“Business owners continually find themselves being drawn away from production and growing their businesses as they grapple with the country’s massively complicated regulatory environment, and it is disappointing that yet again the opportunity has been missed to make life easier for small businesses. This is particularly apposite if businesses are to benefit from the newly announced Productivity Fund, the fine print of which many businesses will be eagerly awaiting.”

Chris Pike, Development Director for Infrastructure at Arcadis: “Investing £450m in the digital railway programme will take our country out of the Victorian era. It will totally revolutionise our railways, increasing capacity, improving the much maligned experience of passengers and improving punctuality and safety.

“Recognising the benefit that rail digitalisation has had across Europe, it is our belief that the digital railway programme will keep the UK at the leading edge of the rail industry and will contribute substantially to increasing growth and productivity across the country.

“Overall, recognising the acute housing crisis and the need for investment in a post-Brexit environment to target growth opportunities, we welcome the government’s commitment in the Autumn Statement to both housing and infrastructure. These two priorities must be intrinsically linked to close the productivity gap in the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse and provide affordable housing to safeguard productivity in London and the South East.”

Justin Arnesen, Director, Ayming: “Today’s Autumn Statement stated that ‘providing certainty is central to the Government’s aims for the tax system.’ However, for R&D tax claimants (ie UK businesses) there is no certainty.  The goalposts seem to regularly change with HMRC’s judgement and assessment of claims, which discourages businesses from claiming again in the future.  If businesses are discouraged from claiming support for their innovative activities then we are highly unlikely to reach the 2020 target of R&D spend being three per cent of GDP. We need clarity and certainty around definitions and the way they will be interpreted, or we are setting ourselves up to fail.

“It’s encouraging to see that Phillip Hammond has lived up to expectations and dedicated his focus on getting Britain building. Infrastructure is vital considering the current housing shortage and poor transport links between our innovation hubs – so a focus on high-value investment in infrastructure, the national productivity investment fund and Housing Infrastructure Fund are all welcome news.

“However, investment alone is not enough. The margins in construction are already extremely tight and in order to actually ‘Get Britain Building’, the Government needs to also commit to creating bespoke infrastructure incentives and remove the microscope that currently hangs above the sector in regard to R&D. Rather than looking for reasons to disprove R&D claims from the construction industry, the Government should instead proactively look for reasons to approve them. Businesses will not always get their claim 100 per cent accurate and the Government needs to understand this whilst still encouraging companies to make use of the incentives available.

“If the the Government does prioritise R&D and innovation then constructors can make better homes for less money and put the £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund to more use, potentially leading to an even greater amount of homes than the 100,000 targeted.

“With volatile times approaching, house building and infrastructure will provide a good foundation to weather the storm. But, in already tough conditions, the Government will have to incentivise businesses with bespoke initiatives to actually get Britain building.”

Caroline Elston, European Grants Manager, Ayming: “Brexit has cast a dark cloud over EU funding and Philip Hammond has failed to calm the nerves of business in today’s Autumn Statement. Of course, the national productivity investment fund, specifically the £2bn R&D investment, is great news and will help Britain achieve its goal of becoming the world’s innovation hub.

“However, the UK has a strong, globally recognised science, technology & innovation base in many sectors and the Autumn Statement failed to reassure stakeholders that funding of projects through H2020 grants or European Commission grants will continue once the UK leaves the EU.

“This is not sufficient, and we need a comprehensive, all encompassing strategy that capitalises on the UK’s core R&D strengths. There are two direct ways of achieving this, both of which should have been, but were not addressed by Philip Hammond’s Statement. The first is to provide clarity on Theresa May’s proposed £2bn R&D injection. Answers are needed to questions including whether it will be funded via InnovateUK and if it is uniquely national funding. The second is to bolster the R&D tax incentives by widening the scheme to innovation activities and the social sciences.

“Overall, it is encouraging that the Government is moving towards prioritising R&D and innovation. However, uncertainty regarding EU funding and carrying out R&D with our European neighbours still looms large and answers are still needed. We do not know how it will be spent or how it will be provided, and neither do we know what is next for EU funding. Clarity is key and we hope more detail will be provided rapidly.”

Chris Selway, Head of CPO and Infrastructure at BNP Paribas Real Estate: “The Chancellor’s confirmation of £23bn to be spent on innovation and infrastructure over five years is highly welcome as there is empirical evidence to support the case for improving our road and rail network. It is essential for improved connectivity and generates a range of economic benefits in further investment, job creation and demand for materials and expertise as well as unlocking development and regeneration schemes.

“However, it is disappointing that neither the Chancellor nor Secretary of State last week saw fit to announce any improvement in the HS2 compensation regime for affected businesses. Whilst HS2 is welcome the current system will leave businesses blighted for six years or more and out of pocket. Urgent reform is needed, including an increase to Statutory Loss Payments and the raising of the £34,800 per annum statutory blight ceiling.

“We would also urge the Chancellor and Mr Grayling to address the unstoppable march of expenditure on London, the Midlands and North compared to the South West, which is still being short changed in terms of infrastructure spending, most recently in the deferral of the Great Western Mainline Electrification Project. Bristol and Bath will suffer compared to other cities having been removed completely from the electrified route and the case made by local MP Charlotte Leslie in Westminster Hall yesterday must be heeded.

“Government needs to rebalance connectivity investment throughout the UK to ensure no regions are left behind.”

Rob Weaver, Director of Investments at Property Partner: “We’re pleased that much of the Chancellor’s supportive messaging on the property market in the build-up to his inaugural Autumn Statement has come to pass, with the commitment to more than double annual capital spending on housing.

“The severe shortage of affordable housing is a critical threat to UK productivity and digging deeper into Treasury coffers is a welcome step towards resolving the broken market.

“Targeted funds for affordable homes, and across a ‘wider range of housing’, shows a sage commitment to service all tenure types – both rental and homeownership.

“What’s more, today’s added boost to infrastructure will reduce the burden on current hotspots with improved transports links allowing increased mobility for workers. It’ll open up new areas of the country and potentially help close the gap in regional inequality.

“We welcome any changes to increase fairness for tenants, and removing unnecessary letting fees is a step in the right direction. Beyond this, the government’s commitment to increasing housing supply will do far more to target the root cause of the problem.

“Moreover, the National Productivity Investment Fund of £23bn, with its focus on housing, infrastructure, and disruptive technologies, shows the government recognises the biggest challenges and opportunities for our economy.

“The support for new technology firms will increase innovation, and continue to attract international talent even after Brexit.”

Trevor Ivory, Planning partner with DLA Piper: “It is disappointing that the much-anticipated Housing White Paper will not be published today.  There are a number of important issues on which the industry needs certainty about the new Government’s position.

“The future of CIL and Starter Homes, changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and a response to the Local Plan Expert Group report are all matters on which the Government needs to provide certainty at the earliest opportunity.  A White Paper today would have been an opportunity to end the uncertainty.

“Extra funding for new homes is welcome and should help to address the continuing problem of undersupply.  The announcement that housing providers will have more flexibility as to the types of housing they can deliver with the funding is a potentially significant shift away from the previous focus on homeownership, which has been detrimental to the provision of rented products.

“The focus on homeownership has also constrained the emergence of Private Rented Sector (PRS) in the private sector.  If today’s announcements signal a wider shift in Government policy towards recognising the contribution that rented housing can play in meeting the country’s housing needs, it is very significant.

“It is very good news that the Government continues to recognise the importance of investing in infrastructure.  Renewing existing infrastructure and providing new capacity is fundamental to the long-term prosperity of the UK.  As ever, the challenge will be getting infrastructure projects underway quickly and so it is important that the Government ensures that the Planning Inspectorate has the resources it needs to determine development consent order applications within the statutory time periods without compromising its performance in other areas.

“It is also important that projects are not bogged down in by political wrangling in the way that some projects have been.”

Michael Thirkettle, Chief Executive of McBains Cooper: “This provides some good news regarding the Government’s commitment to spend on social and economic infrastructure, in particular the £1.4bn aimed at delivering 40,000 new affordable homes in England, £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund to help provide 100,000 new homes in high-demand areas and £3.15bn for London as its share of the national affordable housing funding to deliver over 90,000 homes. For years successive governments have announced ambitious house building targets which are never met.

“We are disappointed that there was no announcement to streamline the planning process or free up land on the greenbelt – much of which is derelict land rather than areas of beauty – as that would also help the shortage of land.

“We were also disappointed not to see further investments in training and apprenticeships in the UK construction industry, as we will need to train and re-train UK people in readiness for any restrictions in the supply of skilled foreign workers following Brexit.”

Shraga Stern, Director, Decorean: “With people scrambling for homes and what appears to be survival of the richest, Phillip Hammond’s encouragement to alleviate the current housing crisis and provide housing for everyone is a welcome sight. However, for there to be a real change, the government must enforce changes to the planning system and regulations, which act as a stumbling block for many smaller developers. As the UK’s population continues to grow, we echo Mr Hammond’s thoughts that for many ‘the goal of home ownership is out of reach’. However, we have heard this all before and hope that this Autumn Statement acts as a stepping stone to providing a shelter over people’s heads and somewhere comfortable and affordable to call home.”

Christopher Mahon, Investment Manager and Director of Asset Allocation Research at Barings: “The Chancellor’s infrastructure plan is upside down. The treasury has already committed eye watering sums of money to programmes such as HS2, Heathrow & Hinkley that won’t be completed for another 20 years. Billions upon billions have been promised, with those projects costing £56bn, £19bn, and £18bn respectively.

“Meanwhile only token amounts of money are being spent on practical projects that are needed today such as easing rail and road bottlenecks. For example, the £2bn announced today is 50 times smaller than the amounts committed to the three mega projects alone. This is despite the Treasury’s own analysis showing these smaller less glamorous projects give the bigger payback to the taxpayer. So it is a great shame that the Chancellor continues to be seduced by the glamour of the mega and ignores the utility and timeliness of the micro.

“Britain seems to be locked into a type of topsy turvy spending dogma which results in the UK’s well known productivity stagnation.”

Stephen Radley, Director of Policy at CITB: “Today’s announcements offer more certainty for the pipeline of work ahead, not just nationally but at a regional and local level in infrastructure and housing.

“This will help to boost business confidence following the uncertainties thrown up by Brexit. The local and regional investment should help bring more small firms into the supply chain, where much of the training takes place.

“With action on several fronts to boost homebuilding, it’s vital that we have the workforce in place to deliver the extra homes. That’s why CITB has joined forces with the Home Building Federation to set up the Homes Building Skills Partnership to support businesses across the UK to address their training and recruitment needs.”

Kate Bailey, chair of Policy and Communications Committee at the Landscape Institute: “It is commendable that the Government is to fund delivery of new housing infrastructure and more affordable housing; but housing quantity cannot be divorced from housing quality. People want to live in desirable housing, not just any housing. Poor design is a barrier. Existing residents need to believe that new housing will enhance, not diminish, their quality of life and the value of their homes. One way of overcoming public opposition to new housebuilding is to commit to high quality landscape in every new development. If we are to increase housing density as the Government intends and if one outcome is the provision of generous and attractive green spaces and amenities, then hopefully this new housing will be more acceptable to existing communities.

“The quality of where we live is not just determined by the house itself but by the surroundings, a safe neighbourhood, the journey to the school, bus stop or tube. There is no one size fits all solution. The landscape profession already has the tools for incorporating the best design principals. For example ‘Build for Life 12’ is a traffic light system to assess the quality of developments. It asks twelve questions of development proposals, eleven of these are reliant on landscape planning and design. Greater use of ‘Build for Life 12’ by local authorities would play a considerable role in improving design quality and reducing local opposition. In order to effectively promote high quality landscape design in housing, professional knowledge, design skills and leadership are essential.

“The UK features many poorly-designed housing estates and I believe that a landscape led approach is critical in increasing the supply of high quality ‘liveable’ housing. It will help make developments more acceptable to existing and future residents and will be a positive evolution in the way we plan and deliver new communities with sustainable lifestyles fit for the 21st century.”

Eleanor Deeley, Partner, Residential at Cushman & Wakefield: “The government’s new £1.4bn to fund 40,000 new affordable homes (£35,000 per home) is a very welcome contribution to the affordable market. There are many ways in which this could be utilised and whether it is through the direct purchase of land, or whether it is through gap funding across more sites it will certainly go a long way to delivering affordable housing. However, what we need now is further detail on how this can be accessed and utilised by developers in order to deliver more housing.

“The introduction of a right to buy for housing association tenants reinforces the government’s policy of supporting home ownership. There is yet to be the detail announced as to whether this would be a ‘buy as you go’ scheme which would allow housing association tenants the right to contribute to the purchase of their home through monthly payments or whether it will be a one off payment.

“The former would be preferable as this will assist those Housing Association Tenants who typically pay 47 per cent of their take home income in rent. What was lacking was any policy to replace those homes which will be sold through this scheme as there is a foreseeable but unintended consequence to this policy that the affordable housing stock could be considerably depleted in the coming years.”

Chris Selway, National Head of Infrastructure and Compulsory Purchase at BNP Paribas Real Estate: “Unfortunately, the IPA’s review will uncover a lack of skills and expertise, with little in the way of recent project legacy at regional and local level that public bodies can replicate or build upon.

“Not since the days of Michael Heseltine’s Development Corporations have the regions seen much in the way of regeneration or infrastructure investment. The issue is not just about funding, it’s about programme and strategy. Forward funding infrastructure schemes de-risks and shortens timescales – nothing gets built without securing the land and rights to accommodate it and that’s where money can be saved by spending sooner to save in the long run.

“Speeding up negotiated acquisitions, paying better compensation sooner and get the deals done more quickly will deliver projects faster and for less cost to the taxpayer.”

Jules Bickers, Director of Housing for Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure: “Many expected some significant new funding for the housebuilding industry in the Autumn Statement, and the Chancellor hasn’t disappointed. In a fast-changing political climate and with concern mounting about the housing shortage it is pleasing to see the government working to encourage delivery by providing a lower risk development environment to developers, funders and new entrants to the housebuilding sector.

“It’s clear from the Chancellor’s statement that local authorities are in the driving seat when it comes to infrastructure investment. What is important is that local authorities and house builder’s work together on the delivery of new homes from land release, funding and planning through to construction.

“The £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund will help to unlock development value in areas where we need it the most; lowering the risk of investment and helping to drive further growth.

“The Chancellor’s statement today should provide some of the certainty that we – and others – have been looking for, particularly where developers, public and private, can cleverly match and build funding streams to lower risk and increase development ambition.”

Nick Sanderson, CEO, Audley Retirement Villages: “There is no doubt that a commitment to building more homes is a positive, and it’s a relief to finally see the government viewing the housing crisis without the recent distorted perspective on first time buyers. Supply is there, at all levels, but the housing market needs to be viewed holistically. As Philip Hammond says, investment is needed in all types of housing. But more than that there needs to be a bigger focus on incentivising downsizing through investment in quality retirement housing, which would free up the stock of family size houses currently occupied by older couples or single people.

“There are thousands of people living in homes that are too big for their changing needs – in fact, two in five UK homes are under-occupied – but for years, hopes of a solution to the housing crisis have been pinned to policy that supports first-time buyers alone. These measures simply address the symptoms and ignore the underlying cause of the problem. The older generation is growing and we need to focus on aspirational accommodation for the older generation if we are to make any difference at all in the long-term.”

Stephen Stone, Chief Executive of Crest Nicholson: “Crest Nicholson welcomes Philip Hammond’s commitment to double annual capital spending on housing, investing £1.4bn in affordable housing in order to deliver 40,000 new homes, alongside a £2.3bn investment in infrastructure around new housing developments. The UK continues to be challenged by a short supply of suitable, affordable housing stock in addition to ambitious targets to reach in order to meet a growing population. Ultimately this investment should help to make the dream of owning a house a reality for a significant number of people.

“The investment is another reminder of how the housebuilding industry must pull together and address its growing skills gap in order to continue to deliver quality housing across the UK. A highly trained workforce is vital to our industry’s future growth, and the attractions of a career in housebuilding must be made clear to the next generation of our workforce.”

Jon Bower, Planning & Infrastructure Partner at Bond Dickinson: “Today’s announcements on infrastructure are not as wide ranging as we have seen previously. The Chancellor has steered away from mentioning specific projects (aside from accepting the recommendations on the Oxford –Cambridge expressway), and some announcements had been trailed before in the run up to today’s Autumn Statement.  Perhaps the most critical announcement doesn’t relate to funding.

“It is the government’s announcement that it has set the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) a fiscal remit.  This new fiscal remit invites the NIC to set out recommendations assuming that spending on infrastructure will lie between one per cent and 1.2 pre cent of GDP each year from 2020 to 2050.  This would mark a sustained, long-term increase in infrastructure investment.  With the Government making the final decision on all spending, the NIC does however have an economic framework within which to work.

“The increased investment in flood defence and resilience will be welcome particularly in the South West region as it confirms £50m for rail resilience projects, including Dawlish, and comes a day after the publication of the South West Peninsula Rail Task Force’s report ‘Closing the Gap’.  That sets out the strategic rail blueprint for the South West Peninsula.”

Duncan Tilney, Managing Associate in the Planning and Infrastructure team at Bond Dickinson: “In today’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor Phillip Hammond said that the government will continue to focus on driving up productivity and taking action to close the UK’s productivity gap over the long term through promoting increased investment, particularly in innovation and infrastructure; a more flexible planning system; an open, trading economy; and a skilled workforce.

“While he steered away from referring to particular projects, the small print does include confirmation of £170m investment in flood defence and resilience measures.  With £20m of this for new flood defence schemes, £50m for rail resilience projects, including Dawlish, and £100m to improve the resilience of roads to flooding. This is welcome.”

Richard Threlfall, Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction at KPMG UK: “One number matters more than any other in what the Chancellor said on infrastructure investment in the autumn statement: 1.2 per cent. It is, as a percentage of GDP, the guidance to the National Infrastructure Commission on UK spending on economic infrastructure from 2020 to 2050. The Chancellor was proud to explain that it represents an increase on the current 0.8. Whilst that may be true, it is still low by international standards, and the continued focus on economic infrastructure in isolation, ignoring both social infrastructure and housing, is another missed opportunity to grasp the bigger picture. Overall, the UK spends about 2.7 per cent of GDP on infrastructure today. Canada spends more than four per cent and China at least double that.

“Today’s Autumn Statement felt fairly business-as-usual with lots of small initiatives, all welcome, but nothing transformational.”

John Goodall, CEO and co-founder of Landbay: “These commitments to housebuilding have one cast-iron objective, to making homeownership more affordable in the UK. A £7.2bn injection for the construction of new homes is most certainly a step in the right direction for addressing the chronic supply/demand imbalance facing aspiring homeowners priced out the market. However, such measures won’t bear fruit overnight – even 2020 may not be a realistic target if past pledges are anything to go by.

“In the interim, it’s vital that the private rented sector, one that is depended on by 5.1m households across Britain, is supported. Cutting letting fees is a small measure but could result in tenants facing higher rents if landlords have to absorb these costs. It’s encouraging to see no further taxes imposed on the sector – but Hammond could have gone further to relieve the rental pressure on Generation Rent.”

Ian Smith, Director of Planning and Development at Cheffins: “The time has come for local authorities to take responsibility for the housing crisis in their respective districts. Councils are charged with identifying local housing needs and they now need to start to play a pivotal role in increasing output, and most importantly, delivery, from developers in a sustainable manner. By unlocking funding for housebuilders and by revamping the somewhat forgotten Home Building Fund, the Chancellor is attempting to address the housing shortage which is reaching critical levels in various parts of the country. In spite of rhetoric around ‘getting Britain building’ and ‘turbocharging the industry,’ the government targets of reaching over one million new homes by 2020, appear to be some way off so there was little choice but to address these shortfalls today. In a climate of political and economic uncertainty, investment programmes such as the one laid out by Hammond will provide a welcome kick-start to the construction industry which remains nervous over its prospects for the coming months. With the planning process being identified by many as one of the issues in the delay of new homes proposals, granting planning permission needs to be accelerated in order for the government to reach its targets of 40,000 affordable homes by 2021. Many blame the planning system for being too slow and too bureaucratic so moves to speed up the process are essential if the government is going to improve housing delivery as part of its promised ‘fiscal reset.’”

Patricia Moore, UK Head of Infrastructure for Turner & Townsend: “Infrastructure is clearly still a priority, with Philip Hammond reaffirming that it’s a powerful way of driving broad-based economic growth. We were never expecting a blank cheque, given the huge pressures of Britain’s debt, but to have an outline of funding for specific projects together with the establishment of a working assumption of 1-1.2 per cent GDP for investment planning is a positive move to provide the longer term certainty that our industry craves.

“The successive greenlights for the “three h’s” of infrastructure mega-projects – Hinkley Point C, Heathrow’s third runway, and HS2 (all of which we are involved in) – also give a shot in the arm to Britain’s construction industry and demonstrate official treasury acceptance that infrastructure really means jobs and trade.

“Regardless of project size however, our industry must now focus on getting these projects set up for success, to ensure economic and community value.

“The Autumn Statement is also a sure sign that the new chancellor will continue the devolution agenda and sees infrastructure as a critical enabler to that. Funding of better rail links and transport projects is a strong sign that the government is fully committed to this. Furthermore, the ability of the mayoral authorities to raise finance is an interesting step in the right direction to fiscal devolution.

“We welcome the announcement that more funding is to be allocated to research and development, a driver of innovation to UK businesses. As infrastructure programmes increase in scale and become more complex, innovative management of programmes and advancement of project delivery through big data needs advancing at an unprecedented rate. The infrastructure sector must benefit from the announced R&D funding in the future and we look forward to working with our clients to develop their responses to this as well as seeing further details on the government’s industrial strategy.”

Grahame Carter, Operations Director – Infrastructure, Matchtech: “The Autumn Statement announcements on infrastructure investment are very promising for multiple sectors within the industry. The already buoyant highways sector stands to gain from £220m of investment for improvements to national roads, the buildings sector will benefit from a new £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund which will be set aside to create 100,000 new homes and the rail sector has been set aside £110m for East West Rail. All of this investment is bound to create a significant number of engineering jobs, and those with civil or structural skills will be particularly in demand.”

David Hawkes, CIOB Policy Manager: “In the face of rising government debt, the temptation is to cut capital spending. The CIOB welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement to commit greater levels of investment in the built environment, as well as further funding for improving productivity and innovation. Well designed and constructed built assets and infrastructure provide enormous value over time, both enabling and contributing to productivity gains.

“It’s clear that the Chancellor recognises that improving productivity is vital to economic prosperity. In construction, we know what can be done to improve productivity, but require certainty for firms to invest in innovation, skills and training in order to support it. For this reason, we welcome the £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund, to be spent on improving innovation and infrastructure over the next five years. The CIOB’s report into productivity published earlier this year found strong support from industry and MPs for the public sector to invest in construction to help increase productivity. Given this view, we are keen to ensure the fund recognises the contribution that the industry makes to improving productivity in the wider economy.

“Regional investment that adds value throughout the country is also welcomed. Closing the investment and productivity gap between London and the rest of the UK is much-needed – so the funding commitments for housing and local transport networks are particularly encouraging. But for this to work, investment must be tied to training and job creation.

“We are also pleased to see the £13m support to help businesses improve managerial skills, but await further details on eligibility and distribution.  As the professional body for construction management, we know first-hand the value management professionals bring to the industry, and the high degree of influence they have over productivity through their role in overseeing the workforce and the programme of works. Essentially, investing in management professionals has the potential to transform construction’s productivity.”

John Newcomb, Managing Director of the Builders Merchants Federation: “We welcome the Housing Infrastructure Fund. It will help to invigorate the market by encouraging house building, particularly in areas like London where housing is in high demand.  It will also help to create jobs and growth in construction and the wider UK economy. This is good news for merchants and we expect to see a continuation of September’s strong timber and joinery sales as construction work generated by the fund begins.”

Patrick Hayes, Director at Meinhardt UK: “Whilst the extra spending on housing and infrastructure is welcome, it is primarily through existing initiatives. Given the impact of construction spending on boosting the economy and the need to alleviate a Brexit slowdown, we would promote new proposals to boost affordable house building on public land by local authorities in partnership with private developers, and a strategic investment in multiple transport systems to improve regional connectivity between hubs.”

Nicholas Dennys, QC at Atkin Chambers: “The Autumn statement is to be abolished so this is the last occasion on which the Chancellor will produce a mini-budget by this means. This statement assumes an additional importance because of the predicted effect of Brexit on growth in 2017/2018 and the tantalising suggestions of a Keynsian style expansionary boost to the economy through public spending. Given the context the questions were: How much spending? On what type of project? And when? In the result the statement was more damp squib than big bang. For example spending of £1.9bn was predicted for fibre connections – the announcement, £0.7bn of which only £0.25bn is to be spent next year. The largest element of £7.2bn committed to building  new homes over the five-year period will  only produce ‘up to’ 140,000 homes by 2020/2021. The time lag between infrastructure investment and growth is notoriously long. What represents a departure from the previous chancellor is Mr Hammond’s willingness to ‘borrow to invest’. Overall in the contest between ambition and prudence, prudence appears to be uppermost and whilst the nod towards a relaxation to the shackles of spending on infrastructure represents a welcome change in policy for the construction industry, the specific measures announced in this statement will probably disappoint  in their scale and lack of ambition.”

Neil Lawrence, Managing Director of Gibbs & Dandy: “I welcome the chancellor confirming there will be funding for 40,000 new homes. The building and construction industry can be a real driver for economic prosperity and housebuilding play a hugely important role within the industry. My view has always been the same, which is the UK needs a true housebuilding revolution.

“Government, housebuilders, local authorities and the industry as a whole all have a role to play. It’s estimated that the need for additional housing in England alone is between 232,000 to 300,000 new units per year. That’s a level of housebuilding that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s, and is far higher than the currently level of building.

“Such an investment in housebuilding will benefit so many people, not just those looking to get on the property ladder. It will also create jobs for tens of thousands of trade professionals, including builders, joiners, electricians, plumbers, and painters and decorators, support local businesses that supply materials, as well as contribute to the local economies where properties are being built.”

David Jackson, Founder and Chairman for leading construction audit and contract provider, Hudson Contract: “The Autumn Statement strongly emphasised a commitment to more investment in infrastructure, increased housing development and a drive to raise productivity. That’s a three-fold commitment which builders can be relied upon to deliver.

“There’s a great deal that those who choose to freelance in the construction sector can and will contribute to the ambitious plans announced by Mr Hammond. They offer agile working solutions to construction and will play a key role in driving productivity.

“In a paper we published in 2012 written by Economics Professor Andrew Burke, we identified the benefits that freelance builders bring to construction sites, including; increased productivity through their willingness to work for paid outputs and increased flexibility of trade-specific operatives to meet programme demands. The decreased ‘down-time’ of non-productive hours when specific trades are not needed also generates an overall better value for money on construction projects.

“Such a government reliance on the construction industry to spearhead improvements in infrastructure should create a demand for more skilled workers within the sector. Training therefore will play an important part to increase both the number of skilled operatives in the sector and the number of apprenticeship places afforded to those joining the industry.

“A timely commitment to the introduction of the National Apprenticeship levy to provide for increased numbers of apprentice places is indeed necessary. But what of those adults who need re-training to meet increased demand? In light of the Autumn Statement you might think that this is a time to increase training provision and yet the CITB are committed to reducing their training provision.

“I believe the private sector will step up to meet the need for adult re-training. Facilities will need to grow and if providers are able to offer accredited training with the outcome of retrained tradespeople skilled to an industry-acceptable standard, the sector will be able to meet the increased commitment to infrastructure and housing.

“There was of course mention in the statement of taxation and a reiteration of fair taxation for all. The Construction Industry Scheme is long established in that regard. All freelancers or labour-only subbies accept the fairness of the scheme and the deduction of tax at source, on every payment.

“Where correctly applied and in strict accordance with all relevant tax laws, the CIS scheme provides for a positive cash-flow into the treasury and facilitates a near one billion interest-free loan to the government coffers.”

Ben Brocklesby, Sales and Marketing Director at Origin: “Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement had no real surprises for us and included everything that what we expected. Overall, it was a glass half full announcement, and those naysayers must remember that it could have been worse.

“We are thrilled that the Government is going to provide funding to help deliver 100,000 new homes in high demand areas, and 40,000 extra affordable homes. This will give a major boost to our trade partners, especially those with ambition to grow locally. We would have hoped for a small caveat in the Statement that specified the work must done by UK businesses, but you can’t win them all.

“It was also pleasing to hear support for UK businesses that export overseas, although we would have liked to have seen a little more. This support will allow us to move further afield and pitch for bigger contracts that previously seemed unattainable.

“Although there was no direct mention of manufacturing in the Statement, which might be due to the uncertainty of Brexit still lingering over us, there was still a glimmer of confidence throughout. UK businesses might have hoped for the releasing of tax, allowing us to reinvest in ourselves, but if companies continue to spend I am sure we will start to see some growth.

“For Origin, it continues to be business as usual. We have always relied on our product quality and the unbeatable service we provide, as well as unrivalled lead times on our systems, and this is never going to change.”