Construction ‘at mercy’ of government disarray as Johnson quits

Construction leaders have demanded a swift return to stable government as Boris Johnson this lunchtime announced an end to his premiership, following a string of key ministerial resignations.

Leading figures from across the sector told Construction News that it was critical to get a strong leadership team in place quickly to tackle challenges, including building safety, cost inflation and slowing output.

They warned that political disruption could result in delays to major projects, planning and housing, in addition to exacerbating issues created by the already challenging economic landscape.

Johnson is expected to stay in his post until the Conservative Party conference in October, but a contest to replace him will begin soon.

Since chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid resigned on Tuesday evening, three other cabinet members and 25 ministers have quit their posts. These include construction minister Lee Rowley and housing minister Stuart Andrew.

Meanwhile, housing and communities secretary Michael Gove was sacked for urging Johnson to step aside, and has been replaced by Greg Clark.

Build UK chief executive Suzannah Nichol said the trade body was “sorry” to see Rowley go, but added that the overall political chaos of this week was such that losing a tenth construction minister in seven years was “relatively minor news”.

She added: “Disruption on this scale is not good for business, the economy or any of us. Construction, in particular, is at the mercy of disarray in government, which is a major client.

“Without ministers in place, particularly at the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, decisions on major programmes of work, planning and housing are at risk in so many ways, and that directly affects delivery by our sector.”

The uncertainty would only “exacerbate” the “challenging” commercial environment that the sector was already operating in, she added.


“The priority is to keep a functioning government, with a plan and processes to keep things moving forward, commit to spending, make decisions and so on – the title of who does that is secondary.”

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said there was a “huge” amount of uncertainty without key ministers in place.

“It is not ideal as we lack leadership. We can carry on for a short time, but do not want it to continue any longer than necessary,” he said. “The quicker we resolve this problem the better.”

Berry was glad to see Johnson take action today.

“The prime minister’s resignation will draw a line,” he said. “The summer is the best time for this to happen, and hopefully we can have a new leader in place for the start of the autumn.”

He said the industry had strong links with government departments through trade bodies and the Construction Leadership Council.

“The important thing is to engage with the new construction and housing ministers,” said Berry. “We welcome this opportunity to re-engage and will want to focus on a national retrofit strategy. There has been a piecemeal approach from this government, so there is a chance to reinvigorate policy in this area.”

Construction Products Association deputy chief executive Jeff May said government officials had already warned of an impact from the upheaval.

“We have already been told by civil servants that we should expect some important policy discussions to slow, given the absence of ministerial direction,” May said.

“We hope the government can right itself quickly, as there are pressing issues – such as building safety, sustainability initiatives, and the general inflationary and cost of living pressures impacting the economy and consumer sentiment – which require government to be actively engaged.”

Peter Hogg, UK cities director at built environment consultancy Arcadis, said: “Global Britain, a vibrant trading nation and the world’s sixth-largest economy, thrives and grows on a stable economy, a pragmatic approach to global trade and investment, and an unchallengeable commitment to rule of law.

“We look forward to the next prime minister, whoever that might be, strongly and quickly reasserting these principles, and demonstrating competence and predictability in government. This will provide the quickest and surest route to economic recovery, and the confirmation of the UK as one of the world’s most attractive countries in which to visit, live, work and invest.”

Johnson has been under intense pressure this year and has been forced to apologise on several occasions. He received a fixed-penalty notice from the police for breaking his own lockdown rules, and more recently admitted he knew of a previous investigation into former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher’s behaviour before appointing him to the role he quit in the wake of fresh allegations.


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