2016 was a mixed year; big decisions came on Hinckley and Heathrow, but Brexit uncertainty over-shadowed everything and it’s therefore hard to pick out one single theme that’s likely to dominate 2017 from a sector perspective, so I’m going to go for three – writes James White.
One is infrastructure spending on both sides of the Atlantic. If you’d asked him back at the start of the year, I dare say Philip Hammond probably wouldn’t have said that he had much in common with Donald Trump, but both are committed to investing in infrastructure as a means to boost their respective economies. In the UK, this will hopefully take the form of “shovel ready” projects around road improvements and urban regeneration activities, which will have an immediate impact on both the economy and those contractors and suppliers who will help to build these assets. In the US, those UK firms with exposure to this market will be keen to position themselves to take part in the $1 trillion Mr Trump stands ready to deploy.
Two will be the ongoing wrangles over the UK’s chronic housing shortage. We’re still not building anywhere near enough houses to satisfy the UK’s requirements. Regardless of Sajid Javid’s posturing, I don’t see that position miraculously reversing next year, particularly if he persists with his combative stance towards the UK’s housebuilders in an attempt to strong arm them in shouldering yet more risk at precisely the time that the market is showing signs of turning.
Three; I think the skills shortage facing the construction industry will come into sharp relief in 2017, as and when Article 50 is triggered – if we’re not building enough of those houses now, just imagine how we will struggle when we lose access to European labour. I therefore expect the industry to be both vocal in its opposite to immigration reforms, whilst simultaneously trumpeting its own apprenticeship and graduate opportunities.
The single most important piece of advice I would give to communicators in 2017 is to keep communicating. 2017 has the potential to be a challenging year and, while there’s always a temptation to retreat into one’s shell in times of uncertainty, companies in the construction space should be wary of doing so, in case the outlook for the industry worsens.