Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May pledged to boost infrastructure spending and housing supply, as part of her plan to build a UK economy “that works for everyone”. New Treasury-backed bonds will fund infrastructure projects and to make energy supply cheaper and more reliable. She was also determined to increase housebuilding even if it means a drop in house prices.
The swift resolution to the uncertainty in the wake of the referendum has been welcomed by industry, though May’s stance on issues that will impact on construction and infrastructure are largely unknown.
May, 59, has been home secretary since 2010 and was also minister of women and equalities from 2010 to 2012. She held shadow cabinet positions and has represented the Maidenhead constituency since it was created in 1997. She was also the first female chairman of the Conservative Party, holding the position in 2002 and 2003.
Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “A priority for UK industry is a stable government and economy. As such, Theresa May’s appointment as prime minister is welcome as it provides certainty instead of indecision during a long leadership election.
“It is now time for the government to get back to the day job of running the country, investing in the growth that will protect the economy from the headwinds that have risen since the referendum. There are major decisions to be made now on large infrastructure projects – it is time for our new prime minister to show that the UK is open for business again.”
Simon Girling, national chair of the National Federation of Builders, also welcomed the certainty May and a new prime minster would bring.
“The sooner we have some semblance of stability the better,” he said. “That way we can get back to focusing on building the homes our country needs, developing home-grown talent and doing this while securing the best value for taxpayers’ money.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders said that he was encouraged by May's appointment as from a construction industry perspective, May’s experience at the very highest levels of Government – is just what is needed at a time of economic uncertainty.
He added that while he was also encouraged by to hear May already commit to increasing house building during her time as PM, there were uncertainties in other areas.
"Our biggest reservation would be that, as Home Secretary, May raised the bar incredibly high for skilled non-EU migrants attempting to enter the country. With a new immigration settlement likely to be introduced as part of our departure from the EU, current policy would most probably exclude the talented tradespeople our sector desperately needs. There’s a real danger Brexit could exacerbate this country’s construction skills crisis and we would urge May to develop a responsive system of immigration that satisfies the needs of the construction industry.”
So what else do we know about the new prime minister?
She has been adamant that there will be no attempt made by the UK to stay in Europe and has said “Brexit means Brexit”. Although not good news for the construction industry with regards labour, it gives it a clear direction and time to start planning in case of future shortages of EU workers.
In the speech given in Birmingham to launch her leadership campaign, she announced that “housing matters so much” and “unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising. Young people will find it harder to own their own home.”
She maintains that unless more houses are built then we will end up with an unbalanced, unfair economy.
However, in 2013 she voted against building 100,000 affordable homes and also voted against bringing forward long-term infrastructure investment.
There’ll be a sigh of relief among the industry that May already gave her blessing to HS2, particularly as reports by The Times suggest almost £1.4bn has already been spent on the high-speed rail line before a single piece of track has been laid. But what now for the Northern Powerhouse, driven as it was by chancellor George Osborne who might be expecting to be replaced at the Treasury?
May has also expressed concern over the expansion of Heathrow airport, in particular voicing local concerns about night flight noise from Heathrow in the past. However, she has not formalised her position.
Other commentators have asked whether she will continue to back the strike price agreed by the government with EDF energy and guarantee for Hinkley Point C.
In her career so far as an MP, May has largely been silent on the issue of climate change and her voting record on the environment while in government mirrors that of her party.
A spokesperson from the UK Green Building Council, said: “We would urge any potential PM to consider climate change moving forward.”
With pay, May has said she wants to tackle the “unhealthy and growing gap between what companies pay their workers and what they pay their bosses”.
Specifically, she wants to make shareholder votes on corporate pay packages binding instead of advisory and simplify the way bonuses are paid so that the bosses’ incentives are better aligned with the long-term interests of the company.
When it comes to Britain’s boardrooms, May has expressed discontent with the current model of corporate governance used by FTSE companies and in particular the effectiveness of supposedly independent non-executive directors.
“In practice, they are often drawn from the same narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and the scrutiny they provide is often limited,” she said.
So, she suggests, workers and even consumers should be given a seat at the table.
May has indicated she will not hold an emergency budget in response to Brexit and discussed reforming capitalism calling for a small but strong state. She promised to tackle “gross abuses of power” and address the gap between the generations.