4 Oct 2018
Our External Affairs Officer Sam Lamont summarises our presence at this year’s Conservative Party Conference.
The Prime Minister’s speech - and dance recital - yesterday marked the close of the main conference season (at least in England; our colleagues in the Scottish Property Federation still have the joys of the SNP Annual Conference to look forward to). We were very much present at the two major parties’ conferences, holding six events featuring 25 speakers over the course of both.
We kicked off our Conservative Party Conference Programme with a panel discussion on the impact Brexit will have on skills training and the construction workforce. Lord Adonis (the ex-Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission and Labour party peer) was faced with a critical audience at what was for him very much an away game, being heckled at one point by a particularly dissatisfied Conservative party member.
Luckily the chair – Stephanie Boland (Digital Editor of Prospect Magazine) – soon reasserted control, and the other panel members were able to come to the fore. Our co-hosts for the event, the Federation of Master Builders, were represented by their CEO, Brian Berry, while our industry spokesperson was Helen Gordon (CEO of Grainger and BPF Vice-President). Helen ensured that diversity and barriers to entry for women in the construction industry were a major part of the discussion, which gave the final speaker – Lord Porter (Chair of the Local Government Association) – a platform to build on when he championed more training opportunities for those seeking to become skilled in the biblical trades. Overall, this event was most notable for the cross-party and cross-sector support for a robust domestic skills agenda, and for the recognition of what a necessity this will be in the years to come – welcome words indeed.
Our next event, a panel discussion of the relationship between housing and devolution held in partnership with the Royal Town Planning Institute, Chaired by our own President, Robert Noel (Chief Executive of Landsec). Councillor Ian Courts (Deputy Leader of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council) put in an impassioned plea for the allocation of more devolved powers to allow local authorities and Metro Mayors to really get their teeth into the housing crisis. Accompanying him were Vicky Price (Director, Centre for Economics and Business Research), who provided expert insight on the fiscal and funding side of the issue, and Kay Hughes (Director, Khaa), who brought up the issues surrounding local plans. Rounding off were panel were the two hosts: John Acres (President, Royal Town Planning Institute) and Melanie Leech (our Chief Executive), both articulating the concerns of their membership respectively to the packed room.
Our conference finale was, as is traditional, a dinner on the Monday night. Senior representatives from the industry met with Steve Norris, a past Conservative Party Vice Chair and MP, who gave a short speech before the discussion started outlining his thoughts and predictions on the priorities for the current government. These were extremely useful, ranging as they did from the Letwin review to plans for future London mayoral elections.
Despite the current internal issues in the Conservative party and the government, and the fractiousness of the Labour party, this consensus on important issues is what has been the most dominant theme at both conferences. More and more elements of our political establishment are recognising and prioritising key policy areas, despite the monolithic shadow cast by Brexit: planning reform, skills reform, and devolving more power to unlock more housing. While this is welcome news, we know that the industry needs to rise to the challenge just as the political sphere does, so we can guide them on what the best solutions to these dominant national issues are. Luckily, that’s just what the BPF does best.