Ahead of the General Election: what have the political parties to offer the infrastructure sector in Wales?

The main political parties have now all launched their manifestos for the forthcoming general election. But what do they mean for the infrastructure sector? In reality, Brexit looms heavily across all of the manifestos and it’s difficult to get people to focus on other aspects. So, to try to draw out the infrastructure issues I’m using this briefing to compare the CECA Wales “manifesto” to the manifestos of the political parties to try to tease out who is planning what and who could arguably be classed as the “infrastructure party”. Before I do that, however, I’d like to reflect briefly on the sad and sudden passing of Rhodri Morgan, the previous First Minister of Wales. Regardless of political persuasion, Rhodri’s presence throughout the “devolution era” had a significant impact on life in Wales and he will be sorely missed. As a mark of respect all political parties suspended their campaigns on the following day.

Back to the General Election. Although it’s fairly sudden, it has a relatively short lead in period and it is drawn towards a single issue it’s important that we delve a little deeper to understand the implications for infrastructure and civil engineering contracting businesses. Results from CECA’s quarterly Workload Trends Survey (Q1 2017) http://bit.ly/2qH59S5 found that over 50% of contractors in Wales are experiencing reduced workloads, lower levels of future orders, increased material costs and reducing demand for labour. Whilst the survey shows declining confidence across the UK the picture is particularly depressing in Wales and Scotland. Continuing uncertainty over future economic prospects, ongoing austerity measures across the public sector and political indecision over major projects such as the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and electrification of the mainline to Swansea is denting confidence and hindering investment by contractors in their businesses.

Unfortunately, the General Election just delays decisions even further into the future.

Our CECA Wales manifesto http://bit.ly/2rKh2oi called on political parties to plan for the future and invest heavily in infrastructure following the election to drive growth and create jobs in the wider economy and we identified the following key priorities to ensure that Wales is an attractive place to live and work :

  1. Maintain and build upon the existing infrastructure project pipeline
  2. Align the UK industrial strategy to the economic strengths of Wales
  3. Invest heavily outside London and South East England to rebalance the UK economy
  4. Guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK to ensure we maintain access to a strong workforce
  5. Protect the local pound via better public procurement
  6. Commitment to renewable sources of energy

The sad reality is that you could probably “spin” most of the manifestos to support some or all of these priorities! However here’s a closer look at them from a Welsh infrastructure perspective :

Conservatives :
  • They announced a removal of the Severn Bridge tolls – although separate to their manifesto launch. Expect more of these announcements as the GE gets closer. Although a good political shout we’ve been calling for this for so many years as have all opposition parties so hardly a great giveaway as this tax on our economy should have been lifted years ago
  • No specific references to mainline electrification to Swansea or Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon apart from general references to improved connectivity in Wales and harnessing Wales’ natural resources!
  • Creation of UK Shared Prosperity Fund to replace EU funds
Labour :
  • Create a UK Transformation Fund to invest £250bn over 10 years
  • Complete HS2
  • Expand rail electrification across UK
  • Guarantee rights of EU nationals
  • Commitment to renewable energy
Plaid Cymru :
  • Specific commitment to Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and others across Wales
  • Investment fund for infrastructure in Wales with £7.5bn commitment
  • Guarantee rights of EU nationals resident in Wales
  • Re-opening rail lines across Wales and improvements in transport connectivity across Wales
  • Plan for future of steel-making in Wales
Liberal :
  • Specific commitment to Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
  • Commitment to UK wide capital investment programme
  • Awaiting publication of UKIP manifesto

Given that many areas are also devolved to Wales it’s also worth a quick reminder of what the Welsh Government is already doing in Wales in relation to the priorities set out by CECA Wales :

  • Establishing a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales
  • Establishing a National Development Bank for Wales
  • Commitment to produce an economic (industrial) strategy for Wales before the summer
  • Moving on with the M4 improvements at Newport (subject to Public Inquiry)
  • Supporting improvements to the rail network (which is not devolved)
  • Delivering a new Wales and Borders Rail Franchise via Transport for Wales
  • Support for infrastructure development in a range of non-devolved areas such as the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

So, is there a “party of infrastructure” that we can clearly identify ahead of the UK General Election? All make some commitment but some stand out more than others. The “proof of the pudding will be in the eating” though and we’ll have to wait until after 8th June to find out for sure. However, what CECA Wales will do is to continue to push governments at Wales and UK levels to ensure they deliver on whatever their promises are.