Mixed reactions in the construction industry to the 2023 Autumn Statement

The recent Autumn Statement by the UK government has sparked diverse reactions from the construction industry. The statement from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledges to overhaul the planning system and abandon proposals to eliminate a tax cut that enables businesses to recover equipment costs. While some voices in the sector appreciate certain aspects, others voice concerns about the lack of support for the industry’s critical issues, such as the housing crisis and energy efficiency.

David Cracklen, director of AJC Group, expressed disappointment, particularly regarding the housing industry. He highlighted the challenges faced by Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) housebuilders, emphasising the need for more support. Cracklen criticised the lack of measures addressing the housing crisis and shortage of affordable homes, suggesting that changes to Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) might not have the desired effect. “What needs to happen is reforms to the planning system, in order to enable housebuilders across the board, and especially SMEs, to increase their output. The £32 million that the Government has pledged to speed up planning only applies to London, Cambridge and Leeds, there needs to be support provided across the country,” said Cracklen.

Cara Jenkinson, cities manager at climate solutions charity Ashden, criticised the Chancellor for missing an opportunity to demonstrate climate action leadership. With COP28 approaching, Jenkinson expressed concern about the lack of focus on energy efficiency in the Autumn Statement. Jenkinson said: “A long-term investment in energy efficiency now would reduce our exposure to volatile gas prices, cut the cost of expensive upgrades to our energy grid, and improve the mental and physical health of millions of people facing fuel poverty.”

Other reactions include:

Tim Foreman, managing director of Land and New Homes, Leaders Romans Group (LRG) said:

“Considering the timing of the Autumn Statement in the electoral cycle, the Chancellor’s announcements were surprising.

The Government has a challenge ahead in boosting the economy, improving public sentiment and changing lives in such a way that it can turn around votes. Quick wins in the Autumn Statement might have included meaningful support for first time buyers or initiatives to enable people to move up the housing ladder – the abolition of Stamp Duty, for example.

While we welcome longer term initiatives including efforts to address the nutrient neutrality problem and investments in proptech for the public sector, the Chancellor’s support for the industry is very much aimed at the earliest stages of the development process – a process which is long at the best of times and particularly slow at the moment.”

Gleeds’ CEO, Graham Harle, responded:

“This was an autumn statement by a government that appears to have little insight into the challenges faced by those working in property and construction, having shuffled 16 housing ministers in 13 years and just cancelled HS2. Of the measures announced, full expensing is to be welcomed but is only helpful if you have projects requiring you to buy plant and machinery. It doesn’t help firms struggling to make a profit or investing in people. It’s all jam tomorrow and while planning reforms sound appealing they take time to implement and may not be supported by any future government. Reducing business rates is helpful for a struggling retail sector and abolition of aspects of national insurance for self-employed tradespeople looks good but is worth little more than a few hundred pounds for the average plumber or electrician.”