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Home » General Election Called: North West Firms Respond

General Election Called: North West Firms Respond

North West businesses say skills, red tape, and the push to net zero will be among the key issues they expect politicians to address ahead of the General Election.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called an election at a rainy press conference in Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon. and he and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer launched their campaigns on Thursday.

Michael Frankish, partner and practice leader at Grant Thornton in the North West, said: “As parties start to lobby for votes in the run up to July 4th, the policy areas mid-sized businesses (often regarded as the engine of the UK economy) most want to see the next government focus on are investment in skills and training, reducing regulation and red tape, and measures to support the transition to net zero.

“Drawing from Grant Thornton’s April Business Outlook Tracker, it’s clear that mid-sized businesses are feeling more positive than they have for some time. The indicators for business confidence in the outlook of the UK economy and for their own revenue growth and funding position all surpass the Tracker’s rolling average for the last three years. This optimism follows a period of record lows in the latter half of 2023, signifying renewed confidence in the UK’s economy.

“With inflation now reported at 2.3%, its lowest level for nearly three years, it is perhaps close enough to the Bank of England’s target of 2% that a June interest rate cut may be on the cards. This positive outlook sets the stage for continued business confidence as the country prepares to head to the polls.

“However, the process of a General Election and the associated range of potential policy changes suggested can create uncertainty and directly affect business sentiment and confidence. We’ve seen from our Business Outlook Tracker that wherever there is a sudden,or unexpected, change in policy direction, mid-market confidence is correspondingly affected. But with UK debt levels high and recent warnings from the OECD for fiscal prudence in any election pledges, there may be less opportunity for the political parties to put forward differentiating, stand out economic policies, reducing the uncertainty created this time compared to previous elections.”

Kenneth Wood, the Manchester-based managing director of the construction and real estate consultancy Drees and Sommer UK, said: “You don’t have to work in Treasury to know that whatever the outcome on July 4 it’s evident there’s no pot of gold to address the many and varied challenges we face as a nation – especially in terms of improving our social infrastructure in areas like schools, health and housing while accelerating decarbonisation across the board.

” There’s a very obvious need for progress on issues such as the housing crisis, transport, planning reform, and attracting investment into UK plc. It will be the sincere hope of everyone in UK property and construction that whatever administration the vote produces, it’s one that listens to our industry, and proves to be an enabler of change for good.”

Dave Dargan, CEO and co-founder of Wirral-based modular housing business Starship, said: “Affordable housing must be a central focus in both parties’ pledges for the upcoming general election. Quality housing significantly impacts health, education and overall living standards – issues that are set to dominate the national debate in the next six weeks. Strong and committed leadership is essential to ensure more homes are built, with modern methods of construction playing a crucial role.

“While both parties have pledged to meet the target of building 300,000 homes, it’s not just a numbers game, prioritising low-carbon housing is vital given the housing crisis has worsened. We need to provide homes that do not put energy cost pressure on families, as spending less on energy frees up more disposable income that ends up in the wider economy.”

Jen Fenner, co-founder and MD of Liverpool engineering firm DefProc, said: “The upcoming General Election will test the potential incoming government. Industry faces a significant skills gap that cannot be solved quickly. The existing Skilled Worker visa requirement, which mandates a minimum salary of £38,700, makes it challenging for businesses to hire suitable candidates. I’m hoping that a party will address this issue, which remains a significant concern for industry leaders.

“Additionally, there are reservations about Labour’s Great British Energy initiative. The private sector has already invested heavily in green energy, including alternatives like hydrogen. It is not clear how this new initiative will fit with ongoing efforts. With carbon-neutral targets set for 2030, starting a new large-scale project like GB Energy will likely slow down current progress. The incoming government should focus on accelerating existing renewable energy projects to meet these targets, as the UK has been lagging behind Europe due to delays by the current government.”

Sean Keyes, CEO of Liverpool structural and civil engineering firm Sutcliffe, said: “There are three main pillars that impact us as a business: the economy, housing and the NHS – issues that also resonate with voters. In terms of the economy, all businesses desire low inflation, financial stability, global stability and a good, solid economy that is growing steadily. There’s no denying that the economy is currently stronger and more stable than it has been in years. However,we would like to see a more even distribution of government spending in the North.

“The NHS has suffered from poor management, planning and chronic underfunding for quite some time, placing immense stress on its services, even though in the last 20 years we have spent 40% more in real terms on patient care. Society wants more from its NHS and we as a country have to accept that this probably needs additional funding through taxation. From a construction perspective, both parties must invest more in the bricks and mortar of our hospitals and making them fit for the future, because currently more needs to be spent on modernising its infrastructure so our hospitals meet public expectations.

“Lastly, both parties have pledged to build 300,000 houses per year. It’s vital that we hold the incoming government accountable for this promise. This requires secure funding for social housing, and an improved planning process, as typically permissions currently take between 12 months and 2 years instead of the ideal 3 months, causing lengthy delays. In short, we need more housing as a decade of insufficient construction has left the UK over 1 million homes short. This housing shortage directly impacts quality of life, education standards and health standards, which need to be addressed in this upcoming election and indirectly this will ease the pressure of another major political hot potato which is immigration.”

Simon Harris, CEO of consultancy and facilities management specialist Avrenim, said: “The upcoming general election is a critical movement in shaping the country’s future. Decarbonising the NHS estate and investing in renewable energy sources for large infrastructure will be central topics that will dominate the national debate over the next 6 weeks.

“For the facilities management sector, which makes up 3% of GDP, this period could be monumental. Political parties will now debate whether prioritising sustainability can be a winning strategy. I believe it can be. I think that the FM sector can significantly benefit the broader economy, especially as the incoming government is expected to prioritise the construction of new hospitals and large estates, while also investing in the upkeep of older buildings.”

Rebecca Armstrong, managing director of Southport’s Making Energy Greener, said: “During the general election, I am eager to see increased time and focus given to the green economy. I hope for more substantial support for households and SMEs to increase their energy efficiency, reduce energy costs and lower their carbon emissions. Now is the time for change, and I anticipate significant progress, with a focus on the adoption of sustainable energy sources taking precedence in the national debate.

“From an industry perspective, we need strong, clear and decisive leadership to advance the green skills agenda, which is crucial for the future of our economy and the planet, so I hope both parties campaign on a manifesto that prioritises the future of the green economy, placing it at the forefront of the national debate.”

Liverpool’s Nugent is a charity whose schools, care homes and services support vulnerable children, young people and adults. Its CEO, Jo Henney, said: “The upcoming general election represents a critical moment for our sector. It is an opportunity for all of us to advocate for policies that promote social justice, equity, and the well-being of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

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