The spending review and infrastructure statements diverted attention toward headline-grabbing figures of £50bn for capital spending and £100bn of infrastructure spending. However, capital spending, already cut since 2010, will remain flat and some of the infrastructure announcements had previously been made.
NFB chief executive Julia Evans said: “Headline-grabbing announcements of shiny new things appear to have diverted people’s attention and led them to forget that over £1bn pounds of public construction projects is languishing.”
The NFB believes that with an economic climate in which there are demands to do more with less money, sharper focus should be given to projects that have already been approved but which have stalled. There also needs to be targeted funding, directed to where there will be the greatest return for taxpayers’ money and the greatest opportunities for creating or safeguarding jobs.
One example of a stalled project is a £200m development project in Preston. The northwest region has also been the greatest beneficiary across the three rounds of the Regional Development Fund, receiving £382m in total.
The NFB also expressed concern at the growing job losses in the construction industry. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of workforce jobs fell 53,000 between March 2012 and March 2013. As construction output falls, so do the number of jobs. Job losses on this scale will have wider implications for the government in terms of taxation and welfare.
Ms Evans continued: “The government needs to recognise the absurdity of throwing money into a region where there are already high-value government-backed projects that have stalled. We have a publicly available pipeline of work and a stated commitment to restart stalled projects, but very little on that list of stalled projects is progressing. There has never been a better time to light a fire under those projects and ignite regional economic activity and employment now, not in a few years.”