In business, we need only four things from a government: clarity, certainty, continuity and most importantly, confidence.
We’ve recently experienced a Tory leadership election where there was more blue on blue than a rugby scrum at a policeman’s ball.
Then there was the proroguing of parliament, which had the net effect of uniting political parties that had previously hated each other, reinforcing the old adage that you should keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
Meanwhile, the headlines continue to be dominated by the issue of leaving the EU with no deal.
Chaos is the new normal
We keep being told these are unusual times, but in recent years I am not sure I have seen a ‘normal’ time.
The crash of 2008, which caused the worst recession since the great depression, came first, then we had Project Austerity, which froze spending. Following that we faced the Brexit referendum in 2016, which resulted in the rest of the world believing the UK was a basket case before deciding to invest elsewhere.
However, through all this maelstrom, work in the construction and property sector has continued and projects have been designed, built and occupied.
We are still having to work hard to recruit suitably qualified, competent construction managers, project managers and infrastructure specialists and I am seeing salaries rise, not decline, a sign of a shortage of talent not a plethora of unemployed.
“Even if there is to be a new government before long there are strong indicators that investment in infrastructure will remain a top priority”
The public sector is a mainstay of our business and we are still seeing work come in through the frameworks that govern rail, the health service and education. In the latest spending review we have seen more money allocated to these core areas.
Now is a good time for the government to build and it intends to spend wisely, according to the chancellor’s recent statement.
Even if there is to be a new government before long there are strong indicators that investment in infrastructure will remain a top priority.
Does the uncertainty reflect reality?
Results from industry leading brands is mixed to say the least and tell their own story. Foster + Partners, the UK’s biggest architecture firm, reports a hike in profit and its “highest ever” global turnover despite a drop in UK business. Galliford Try posted a loss, although this was much influenced by problem projects.
Of course, I am not blind to the challenges associated with ensuring there is a pipeline of work going forward.
Investors want a stable economy and Brexit is signalling anything but that at the moment, while the weak pound is undoubtedly affecting imported materials.
“I wonder if perhaps we are all being unduly influenced by the fact that popular insights come predominantly from the mainstream media”
The outlook for 2020 is uncertain and I agree with others in the sector who worry about the lack of clarity from government.
But I also wonder if perhaps we are all being unduly influenced by the fact that popular insights come predominantly from the mainstream media.
The Parliamentary channel on the BBC is lucky to get 75,000 viewers normally, but on one day in August BBC Parliament recorded its biggest single-day audience, with 1.5 million people tuning in.
During one January week, the channel attracted more viewers than MTV, and in July it was announced that BBC Parliament was the only channel in the entire corporation to see an increase in its viewing figures. It has become a media sensation.
Bad news is good news – for media channels
It is easy to blame the media for whipping up a frenzy, but it will be interesting to see whether the intensity and coverage is maintained now Parliament is off for five weeks – at the time of writing.
In other words, are things really that desperate, worrying and dramatic? Or is it in the interest of commentators to present them as such to fill the void that is 24-hour news and to take on social media newsstreams which are their new rivals? After all, bad news sells.
In business we just want to get on and work and, although it may not be a popular thing to say, perhaps less noise from voices off stage for the next few weeks will be welcome relief.
Graham Harle is global chief executive officer of Gleeds
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