Decisions, decisions

general election, manifestos, politics

As MBS goes to press with the December issue, the country is facing a general election. Here MBS highlights some of the parties’ policies and takes a look at what the industry would like to see in 2020. Report by Matt Brooks and Karen Fletcher*

Politics has probably never been so unpredictable as it is now. It’s impossible to tell which way the country will vote on 12th December 2019. The stakes are particularly high this year, with Brexit still looming. But this is not the only major challenge we face.

Climate change must surely be at the top of the agenda. Public protests including groups such as Extinction Rebellion have caught the attention of the press worldwide, with the older generation (traditionally the most likely to vote) also weighing in.

Theresa May introduced a net zero carbon target of 2050 for the UK before stepping down as leader of the Conservatives. The Green Party believes the deadline should be much shorter, aiming instead for net zero by 2030. Party members at the Labour conference backed a motion for a 2030 target. The Liberal Democrats are taking a middle line, with a target of 2045.

Reaching this target requires a range of tactical measures and the parties are following generally similar lines, though with different approaches to funding and incentivising. Housing is a big issue for voters, and most of the parties have partnered the environment and new or upgraded homes in their proposals.

Labour has proposed an investment of £250 billions in boosting the energy efficiency of 27 million homes. Of this, £60 billions would be funded publicly, with the rest paid for from energy savings. The public money would be spent on energy-saving upgrades such as loft insulation, enhanced double glazing and new heating systems. New homes will be zero carbon within 3 years; they will not be connected to the gas grid and use renewables such as PVs.

The Conservatives have proposed a ‘Future Homes Standard’ (see our November 2019 issue for full details on this). A consultation document has been issued, and it also outlines ideas for better domestic insulation as well as a switch away from gas-fired central heating to heat pumps and network heating.

The Liberal Democrats are also focusing on upgrading existing homes to tackle climate change as well as fuel poverty. They too propose to upgrade existing homes (26 million) with insulation, double glazing and new heating systems – which will save the average household £550 a year on energy bills. The aim is to prioritise fuel-poor households so all low-income homes are insulated by 2025. The party also proposes to create 10 new garden cities in England with tens of thousands of new zero carbon homes.

The Green Party has proposed a Green New Deal, investing £100 billion a year into the programme. This will fund heating upgrades and community-level renewable energy projects. Alongside a national retrofit programme, the Greens also want to create 100,000 socially-rented homes a year with low carbon construction while also retrofitting, converting and extending existing buildings.

For the building services sector, the rise of heat pump technology along with heat networks seems highly likely, with all of the main parties looking to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In the commercial construction field, party policies are less clear at this point. The Conservatives propose a construction tax cut, offering 1% more tax relief on the purchase, building or leasing of a structure. The Green Party proposes to encourage the renovation of non-domestic buildings by making planning consent harder to achieve for new commercial properties. It also wants to provide companies with grants to replace older equipment with lower-carbon alternatives.

At the time of writing, the Green Party is also the only group to explicitly mention F gases, with the aim of reducing emissions from air conditioning (and other) systems.

Late payments are a major source of concern for the building services sector. The current government has focused on removing late payers from its supplier lists and is ‘naming and shaming’ late payers. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have not, at the time of writing, explicitly addressed this issue in their proposals. However, the Green Party says that it will require businesses to report on agreed vs actual payment days – and introduce fines for large companies that fail to pay small businesses on time.

The construction sector has also voiced growing concerns over the availability of staff – at all levels. Attracting young people to the industry; training existing employees; and finding replacements for retiring experts are all problematic for companies in the industry.

All parties have raised the subject of education and training as key for the future of the country. Vocational training in the form of T Levels have been planned for introduction in September 2020 by the current government (which has also promised more spending for schools). These two-year T Level courses have been designed with industry and employers, and one of them is specifically aimed at building services engineering.

The other parties are also looking to bring a fresh approach to training and education, much of it with a focus on technical skills. The Liberal Democrats are proposing a £10,000 grant, or Skills Wallet, for every adult to spend on skills and training throughout their lives. In a similar vein, the Labour Party has raised the idea of a cradle-to-grave approach to learning, with every adult entitled to 6 years of free study under a Labour government. The key benefit of this approach, says the party, is to allow adults to re-train by learning new skills.

By the time MBS lands on your desk (or inbox) the elections will only be a couple of weeks away. The last few years have caused a level of uncertainty that has caused problems for the whole economy, and of course the construction sector is vulnerable to slower decisions on investments.

That said, there are still clearly common policies among the parties that indicated a growing interest in low-carbon and renewable technologies which the building services sector is well positioned to work with. If the government can offer a more stable environment for business, then there’s no doubt our businesses can help build a better environment for all.

* Due to MBS deadlines, this report was written before all party manifestos had been published. See our up to date policy information document which we’re updating as information comes in.

Picture credit: Shutterstock.com/Lutsina Tatiana

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