As many commentators have quipped, the biggest thing to come out of last month’s Autumn Statement was the revelation that there will no longer be an Autumn Statement. Flippancy aside, the announcement itself was fairly low key. Confirmation of higher borrowing and lower growth were the headlines, as expected, but the driving message throughout the Autumn Statement was the continual reaffirmation that housing and infrastructure hold the keys to kick-starting a more productive Britain.
By abandoning George Osborne’s target of clearing the UK’s deficit by 2020, instead committing to wiping it as “soon as possible” in the next parliament, the path has been cleared for public borrowing, which will be used to fund infrastructure spending and encourage house building.
The numbers are heartening – a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund, a £2bn “accelerated construction” fund for housing and a £1.5bn fund for affordable housing, as well as a £2.3bn combined fund linking housing and local infrastructure. Elsewhere, the investment of £1.3bn into roads is likely to feed into industry pipelines quickly.
While individually these pockets of investment are not game-changing, parcelled together they show a renewed and committed effort to bolstering the UK’s infrastructure and housing industries, which will in turn have a significant effect on the construction industry as a whole. The Autumn Statement was an understated but encouraging one; despite challenging times ahead, the sentiment was that things could be moving in the right direction. What we need now is a paralleled commitment to planning and skills reforms so the industry can deliver on the Chancellors vision.