The construction industry has provided an upbeat response to the Chancellor Alistair Darling's last Budget before the expected May general election.
A number of packages were announced to boost construction, directly and indirectly, including:
- £385 million of government funding to repair and improve the UK’s roads network, of which £100m will be earmarked for local roads repairs, and the remainder for motorway improvements, chiefly in relation to hard shoulder running.
- Development of a National Infrastructure Framework to prioritise construction of major projects, to be set up by investment advisory body Infrastructure UK.
- A “package of support” for housebuilding industry including raising the exemption on stamp duty for homes up to £250,000 for two years, paid for by raising the duty on homes worth over £1m to 5%.
- A £2bn cash injection for green infrastructure projects, as well as committing to increase financial support for low-carbon businesses and the development of offshore wind.
- £94bn of new business loans to be provided by RBS and Lloyds, nearly half to smaller firms.
Rosemary Beales, national director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “This has all the outward signs of being a budget for infrastructure.
“Having fought for so long to see a credible plan for the future of the UK’s transport and utility infrastructure, today’s Budget announcement on the National Infrastructure Framework is something for the whole industry to celebrate. But with a General Electi on on the horizon, it is vital that politicians of all political persuasions maintain this momentum, committing both to production of the framework and the investment proposals that will be contained within it.
“IUK should provide a key foundation for growth by enabling a fully strategic approach to investment in the construction and development of critical nati onal infrastructure. Our energy, transport, water, waste and communications networks are the key to competi tiveness and producti vity and as such have a central role to play in the economic recovery.”
“Contractors have long campaigned for Government to develop innovati ve means of securing long term finance for major projects. The Green Investment Bank will hopefully provide a new route to unlocking the potential that exists in the private sector for investment in infrastructure.”
Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, said: "We welcome the support for a Green Investment Bank and investment in renewables, but the big disappointment was the lack of any help for households to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
"We have consistently called for the government to extend both the list of energy saving products that are eligible for a lower rate of VAT and the boiler scrappage scheme. We are therefore very disappointed that both of these suggestions have been ignored by the government, as these really would have given a clear indication of the government’s desire for a more sustainable future.
"The support for SMEs, such as the credit complaints adjudicator and the UK Finance for Growth scheme, are to be welcomed and we agree with the Chancellor that successful SMEs are a crucial part of the country’s economic prosperity. For too long the credit facilities for SMEs have been detrimental to their ability to survive and grow, therefore assessing fair bank behaviour and increasing support is very important for the countries recovery.
"Over the last couple of years the housing market has been severely hit and although recovery has begun we are pleased that the stamp duty rate holiday for first time buyers has been doubled to properties up to £250,000 in value, as this should boost the housing market further. However, it is also important that support continues for existing schemes, such as Home Buy Direct and Kickstart as these are also important in supporting and encouraging the fragile housing market recovery."