On 11 March 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, presented his budget to parliament and, coming in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, it offered a package of measures to support the economy, all reviewed below via Designing Buildings Wiki (DBW), the platform for the IHBC’s Conservation Wiki.
The budget itself was also dominated by last-minute changes in response to Covid-19. £30bn of temporary emergency measures included:
- Statutory sick pay for those advised to self-isolate.
- Suspension of business rates for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with a rateable value below £51,000.
- A £500m hardship fund to help vulnerable people in their areas.
- A coronavirus business interruption loan scheme.
- The government will meet the costs of coronavirus statutory sick pay for businesses with fewer than 250 employees.
- Those on in-work benefits will be able to claim from day one if they become ill.
Other announcements with an impact on the construction industry included:
- Housing and infrastructure: ‘If the country needs it, we will build it’.
- A £27 billion investment in strategic roads between 2020 and 2025.
- Funding for a Shared Rural Network agreement to improve mobile coverage in rural areas.
- £5.2 billion for flood defences between 2021 and 2027.
- A £10.9 billion increase in housing investment to support the commitment to build at least 1 million new homes by the end of the Parliament.
- £1.5 billion over five years to refurbish further education colleges.
- A further £9.5 billion for the Affordable Homes Programme.
- An additional £1 billion to remove unsafe cladding from residential buildings above 18 metres.
- A Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Infrastructure Fund to establish CCS in at least two UK sites, one by the mid-2020s, a second by 2030.
- Investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to ensure drivers are never more than 30 miles from a rapid charging station.
- £532 million of consumer incentives for ultra-low emission vehicles, and reduced taxes on zero emission vehicles.
- Scrapping tax relief on read diesel from April 2022.
- £304 million to help local authorities reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions and improve air quality.
- Introducing a Plastic Packaging Tax.
- Planting enough trees to cover an area the size of Birmingham.
- A new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund to improve adult skills.
- Reviewing the Green Book, which sets out how decisions on major investment programmes are appraised, to make sure government investment spreads across the UK.
- Plans to increase public R&D investment to £22 billion per year by 2024-25.
- It had been expected that the budget would be accompanied by the publication of a National Infrastructure Strategy, but the budget simply stated that this would be published ‘later in the Spring’.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC said: ‘Unfortunately, notably absent from the budget documents are the Government’s three biggest manifesto promises on energy efficiency: The social housing decarbonisation fund, Home Upgrade Grants and the Public Sector Decarbonisation scheme.’
Brian Berry, chief executive at the Federation of Master Builders said: ‘Understandably, the chancellor has delivered a ‘first aid Budget’ to overcome the short-term crisis caused by Covid-19. But he has missed an important opportunity to announce interventions that would support the sustainable, long-term recovery construction needs.’
Steve Radley, CITB Policy Director said: ‘The promised investment will create the need for tens of thousands more workers in Britain’s construction sector. This will require a major upturn in the number of apprentices and trainees; government will need to work closely with industry to deliver this. The huge pipeline of work will provide a unique opportunity for government to drive modernisation in how we build, encouraging the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction that will improve productivity in a much tighter labour market.’
Eddie Tuttle, director for policy, research & public affairs at the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) said: ‘Given today’s Budget announcements we encourage government to work closely with the construction industry in order to produce a clearer vision and a smarter, more focussed, attention from policy makers to ensure the industry continues to thrive in a more conducive environment.’