18 May 2017
The Liberal Democrats have published their manifesto ahead of the general election on 8 June.
Calling for a “change in opposition”, the Liberal Democrats pledged several policy proposals such as pushing house building up to 300,000 homes a year by 2022, increasing capital investment in schools and hospitals, installing hyperfast broadband, investing in rail and road infrastructure, and setting up a British Housing and Infrastructure Bank with an operating budget of £5 billion.
The manifesto stated that public procurement should function more smartly, “purchasing from diverse sources and using local labour, goods and services, and encouraging local government to do the same”. On skills, the Liberal Democrats would like to support a skilled workforce of lifelong learners – something that the National Federation of Builders (NFB) and the House Builders Association (HBA) welcome warmly.
Business growth will be aided by mentoring support, reviewed business rates on small firms, removing unnecessary regulation, increasing certainty and supporting new markets. This looks like a positive step in theory, but these approaches would need to factor in increased regulation costs imposed by the introduction of the Zero-Carbon Britain Act, the scrapping of small site exemptions, and increased business burden to deliver utilities such as broadband and electric vehicle charging points.
For SMEs, the Liberal Democrats would like to expand the activities of the state-owned British Business Bank and create a “start-up allowance” for new businesses.
However, the NFB and the HBA regret that the Liberal Democrat manifesto fails to mention the issue of late payment.
The manifesto also fails to mention planning, except for commenting on large developers “reneging on their commitments”. The NFB believes that the Liberal Democrats should have instead focused on local planning authorities reneging on their commitment to deliver within the statutory 13-week period.
The HBA is extremely disappointed to see that the Liberal Democrats propose scrapping the exemption on smaller housing developments to provide affordable homes. The Red Tape Challenge of 2014, which recommended this policy, was the first clear win for SME house builders and is still far from being fully implemented.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto ignores the reality of business, a fact that is further proved by the ambition to directly commission house building where the market fails to deliver. Apart from volume developers, SMEs are impacted by the costs and delay within the planning system and are progressively being excluded from market opportunities.
Construction and housebuilding deliver huge prosperity to the local economy and that value is amplified when delivered through local and regional SMEs. While the Liberal Democrat manifesto does make a strong case for them to ‘change the opposition’, it also lacks the depth in policy that identifies how change will occur.