General Election 2024

Sunak vs. Starmer – The First Debate

With just four weeks to go until the country goes to the polls, the leaders of the UK’s two main parties locked horns in the first head-head debate. 

The debate was centred around the issues that polling suggests are the core issues for voters, namely; the economy, the NHS and immigration. Labour leader Keir Starmer sought to attack the Conservative government record, whilst Rishi Sunak sought to project his party as the safe option – for both the economy and national security. 

 

A Fiery Exchange  

For millions, this was a first opportunity to see the two party leaders battle it out on their TV screens, and was punctuated by several moments in which the argument boiled over, as both leaders spoke over one another and their moderator. 

For Sunak, the aim was to convey a message that the economy was safe under the Conservatives, that the economy was growing and that a future Conservative government would cut taxes and invest in the NHS and schools to continue to deliver prosperity. His message was that an incoming Labour government would put economic progress at risk, and raise taxes, citing a report that he said showed Labour policies would cost households £2,000 each in total. This statistic was repeated several times during the debate, but its veracity was challenged. 

Following the debate, Sir Keir accused Sunak of breaking the ministerial code for lying to the country in making the £2,000 tax claim. Sunak faces a further headache, as James Bowler, chief Treasury civil servant, wrote to Labour Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Darren Jones, clarifying that Sunak’s assessment of Labour’s tax plans in this instance shouldn’t “be presented as having been produced by the civil service.” 

Sir Keir Starmer outlined what he viewed as 14 years of ‘Conservative chaos’, focusing specifically on the 49-day premiership of Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, and the negative impact of her administration’s mini-budget in September 2022. Following the pandemic and the mini-budget shock, Starmer claimed the Conservatives had already presided over a tax burden at its highest level in 75 years. 

 

Climate, environment and energy policy 

In keeping with the campaign so far, climate change and the environment were not top of the agenda. However, there was a short segment that saw the leaders pressed on this issue. Sunak spoke to the concerns his own daughters had about climate change, but added that bold decisions had to be taken to ensure greater energy security and lower energy bills. He attempted to sting Starmer with a claim that Labour would effectively ban North Sea energy, including oil and gas extraction, and that bills would be higher under a Labour government. He also suggested that Labour would mandate households to switch to hydrogen boilers and heat pumps, which he suggested would equate to a cost of up to £7,000. 

Starmer framed this as an opportunity to present Labour’s proposal for Great British Energy, a publicly-owned energy company which he claimed would generate profits to be invested back into public services, provide energy security and lead to a reduction in energy bills. The Conservatives, on the other hand, he claimed, by slowing down their climate change plans, would cost the taxpayer more money than under a Labour government by 2030. 

 

Poll Watch 

A flash poll by YouGov after the debate found voters believing Sunak narrowly won the debate by 51% to Sir Keir Starmer’s 49%.  Subsequent polls by Savanta and JL Partners gave Starmer a victory. The overall feeling is the debate wasn’t enough to shift the dial, with voting intention polls from across the UK’s polling companies presenting a consistent message: Labour leads the Conservatives by roughly 20 points, and this would potentially be enough to deliver a Labour landslide victory on 4th July. 

The election campaign is expected to see further such debates in the coming weeks, with both Sunak and Starmer hoping their respective views will cut through with the electorate. Moving forwards, it’s possible to see the Conservatives intend to use tax and immigration to appeal to voters, whereas Labour will be seeking to criticise the government’s record and making the argument for a change in government. 

A week is a long time in politics, and anything can happen. Just imagine what could happen over the next four. 

🚉 Rail 

All change in Government where Louise Haigh MP, Sheffield Heeley, has been appointed Transport Secretary, with Peter Hendy as the new Transport Minister. Additionally, London Northwestern Railway (LNR) has announced plans to launch new services between Manchester, the West Midlands and London as an extension to their Euston-Crewe service, while Liverpool City Region Combined Authority released a new video has been released to show how the new £100m Baltic station might look. 

Energy 

Ed Miliband has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero and set out his priorities to help Britain to become a ‘Clean energy superpower’. Crucially, Labour has removed the de facto ban on onshore wind. Meanwhile, Severn Trent Green Power has unveiled plans to build three new solar farms, an Indian consortium is working with GE (General Electric) to bring small modular reactors (SMRs) to the UK, and tendering has opened on Eastern Green Link 3 work packages worth almost £4bn. 

🚗 Roads 

Kent County Council is advertising a “£400m” highways opportunity for a supplier for its road asset renewal contract, Balfour Beatty has won £185m A9 dualling contract for the section between Tomatin and Moy and, in political news, Lilian Greenwood MP has been announced as the Future of Roads minister. 

🏠 Property and Development 

Details of a £2bn Highlands construction programme have been announced by the Highland Council , and there has been a major planning boost for a new London tower which would be as tall as the Shard. In more major news, the new Government brought back housing targets and recalled the planning applications for two giant data centres. Labour’s political appointments in the sector include Angela Rayner as Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, and Matthew Pennycook as Housing Minister. 

💧Water 

Northumbrian Water is seeking suppliers for a £160m reactive sewerage repair and maintenance framework and Costain is to support the design of a new Oxfordshire reservoir with clay compaction trials.  Also this week, Ofwat trimmed water companies’ investment proposals to £88bn – still the largest ever price control – and is consulting on its proposals until August. Finally, Labour is yet to appoint an Under-Secretary of State for Water.  

 

Sheridan Hilton, Senior Account Manager in the Construction Practice, recently attended the Social Value UK Conference 2023. He gives his thoughts on what he learnt and what is next for social value.  

In 2022, the UK celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. Maximising the social impact of every pound spent is now firmly entrenched within industry, but as was discussed this week, measuring meaningful social impact is not always clear cut.

At this year’s Social Value UK ( SVUK) Conference, attendees heard from a range of experts, including Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, who gave an impassioned keynote speech about the need to engage at all levels. Cllr Craig argued that if social value is to truly transform places in a meaningful way, it requires cross sector partnership working to deliver better outcomes for local communities. A point echoed throughout the day.

This absolutely echoes Copper’s views on the matter, specifically, on the importance of understanding the communities that we want to support, and reaffirmed our belief that these improvements to collaboration and information gathering are the building blocks of successful social value delivery.

Matthew McKew, Advocacy and Communications Lead at  SVUK, was emphatic when he said that ‘valuation enables decision making’. This was also a point which Erik Bishard, Director at RealWorth, was keen to reinforce: Social Return on Investment (SROI) provides real worth to social value activities, and should be used to help inform decision making.

They both make a very valid point. Only by understanding what has changed for the communities, can we establish the impact created. Once captured, we can then make decisions on how we act on the impact generated.

 

Weighing Up What Matters

Referring to this impact, it was particularly interesting to hear Adrian Ashton, Enterprise Consultant, suggest that whilst measuring tools such as TOMs and HACT are useful for valuing social impact, they do not necessarily represent the whole story. Equally, if not more important is ensuring the needs of communities remain front and centre of any social value activity. Kate Graefe from ProSustain reinforced this point when she spoke about the need to understand what is truly important to our communities, and  explained the need for ‘nuanced data capture to understand local need.’

Capturing the data is clearly important, and Adrian and Kate reminded listeners that we should use data values as a hook to get the conversation started, and not let that be the end of the story. Delivering social value in partnership helps to ensure it remains relevant to the community, and allows each partner can play to their strengths, bringing something distinct to support communities which the other cannot.

 

Leaving a legacy to support sustainable change          

Ultimately, everyone agreed that organisations and social value practitioners should always want to do better, by  pushing forward with opportunities for industry to support new and existing communities, leaving and ultimately leaving a lasting legacy.

By its definition, sustainability suggests ‘continuing indefinitely into the future.’ If social value delivers what communities need and expect, then there is a strong chance a real legacy will be created.

 

The last piece of the jigsaw      

Whilst there are many opportunities to harness the benefit of sustainable impact, some challenges remain. Not least the struggle, by many, to understand the concept of social value. Copper’s newly published Social Value Attitudes Report, highlights that while the sector has been getting increasingly strategic about the way it gives back to communities, the public’s understanding of all of that work hasn’t always kept pace.

This reiterates what came out so strongly at the conference – the need to understand what is truly important to our communities, and how to best use data to capture it.

Finally, it is also fair to say that a lack of a standard definition is not helping to clear the fog of confusion. It was fantastic to hear Social Value UK announce their Political Manifesto at the conference, and meeting their ambition to get the industry to settle on a standard definition will be pivotal. Copper looks forward to working with SVUK on developing this manifesto further and ensuring that our industry and beyond work collaboratively to deliver on the needs and priorities of our communities and stakeholders.

 

Do you need help with writing bids, local insight gathering, developing social value strategies or community engagement? Get in touch here.

In the built environment we have gradually become more and more accustomed to the term ‘social value’ or as we showed in an earlier Copper Industry Insights Report, another term that expresses the same thing, community investment, CSR, social impact, ESG, etc.

Given the challenges around consenting major projects, this points to a greater role in improving the understanding of ‘added value’ that can be derived and delivered to audiences that currently don’t recognise these benefits. Effective, well-tailored social value can be transformative for community/stakeholder relationships, particularly with those who have just been focusing on concerns like construction-stage impact and only expecting detriment.

To read our report, on public attitudes to social value click here.

I had always wanted to experience an internship.

This has come from my desire to begin working in a professional workplace. My time at Copper as an intern in the Construction Practice has been fascinating. This includes tasks such as going door to door to inform residents of work in their area for Network Rail, to producing stakeholder audits for National Grid.  

 

No two days are the same.

Everything I have done has gone towards developing the relationship with our clients and the residents that our projects are aiming to help. As a politics student, we often learn of concepts of diplomacy and collaboration. Nowhere has this been more evident to me, as it has been whilst working at Copper. Of course, the level of diplomacy required when engaging with stakeholders who may have adverse feelings towards the projects, and working with clients on how best to respond is paramount.

 

We try to keep everyone happy- just like the United Nations do in international relations!

When this hasn’t been possible, I have been taught how to tackle this in the most efficient way. Utilising my knowledge of the projects, as well as the enquiries that come from residents, to develop a plan to help mitigate the impact on the resident, whilst not hindering the project.  

 

Why Copper?

Whilst the construction industry may not appear to be the natural place for a politics student. However, at Copper I have found a company that have welcomed me with open arms. This has helped me to develop my communication and stakeholder engagement skills. All useful skills in politics! 

 

Your Experience At Copper

One of the best parts of working for Copper has definitely been the team I have had the pleasure of working with. From the Account Executives to the Directors, everyone is caring and willing to help at a moment’s notice. Not only, does this helps to make sure all jobs are complete but also, that I get the support I need. Instead of being told you’re doing something wrong, the senior team will have a conversation to establish your thought process. They then take the time to explain how it differs from their approach. In fact, it never feels condescending, but instead, I am able to learn from people more experienced who are there to help. The team always provide constructive feedback to help me become the best I can be. 

It is fascinating being part of the communications team working on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) as part of my internship. I have learnt so much and would highly recommend an internship as part of a work experience programme. Knowing that I have contributed to supporting Britain in becoming Net Zero is a great feeling. Also, this is the reason I study politics, to help make the world a better place for everyone. 

The number of business premises used for transport, logistics and warehousing in the UK has almost doubled over the past ten years.

As reported by the Financial Times, “COVID-19 has led to a surge in ecommerce and CBRE estimates that an additional 300m sq ft of warehouse space will be needed in Europe by 2025. The UK, already one of the most developed ecommerce markets in the world, will require an extra 60m sq ft of space — equivalent to 14% of existing warehouse space.”

No easy task

Logistics plays a huge role in the UK economy. It is estimated that the sector is worth £55 billion, comprising 5% of GDP and employing more than 1.7m people. With the continued growth in online shopping since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the logistics sector is poised to go from strength to strength.

The infrastructure required to deliver 60m sq ft of space is no easy task. While steps are already being taken to grow warehouse space and, with logistics one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, it’s essential that both central and local government recognise the need for warehousing, according to the UK Warehousing Association[1].

A bigger seat at the table`

The political landscape over recent years has centred on building houses. But it’s vital that warehousing is supported across all tiers of government and treated as much a priority in planning policy, in the same way that housing and education facilities are often welcomed by local authorities to meet national targets.

While logistics infrastructure won’t ever need to take priority over housing and education, it should have a seat at the planning table. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said new orders for the construction of warehouses were worth £5.6bn in 2021, higher than in any year since 1985.

West Midlands Interchange

A key example of this is the West Midlands Interchange (WMI), being delivered by Logistics Capital Partners (LCP) and Oxford Properties. WMI is A DCO approved development site, with consent to develop a strategic rail freight interchange in the West Midlands and deliver up to 8 million sq ft of Class A Logistics warehousing, in the middle of the so-called logistics “golden triangle”. 

The development is centrally located in the UK, northwest of Birmingham in the key West Midlands logistics corridor. It will deliver significant economic benefit to the region by creating 8,500 jobs and a further 8,100 indirect jobs. It is also expected to generate around £430 million of local economic activity and, through the supply chain, more than £900 million of economic activity nationally each year.

Soon to be the largest logistics site in the UK, it will showcase what can be delivered to support the industry and economy.

How do you generate public support for logistics developments?

Achieving widespread public support for logistics and warehousing is not easy. Local residents and community groups need to be engaged with at the earliest opportunity when it comes to building new infrastructure.

The visual impact on the landscape is always going to be a key factor when considering support for a development, particularly one that includes significant warehouse space and an entirely new road network to support vehicle movements.

Developments such as WMI are working to deliver multimodal access to support net zero targets, and have engaged with local councillors and community groups. Considering environmental and local impacts, aesthetics and access is intrinsic to success.

So what steps can you take?  

  1. Early engagement: Talk to local communities, prior to planning application submission
  2. Community input: Allowing local communities some autonomy and input into design features such as community parks or local area improvements
  3. Tell the story: Ensure you tell a clear story about the project – its benefits to the local economy, employment opportunity, net zero aims, traffic management and how you will minimise construction disruption

In conclusion, while large scale infrastructure developments will never be universally popular, they are essential to the backbone of our economy. Inadequate infrastructure negatively impacts the UK and will reduce the efficiency of the logistics sector.

It is vital that infrastructure is in place to support new warehousing and logistics facilities to meet post-COVID demand. Managing public support is a necessity for success in this world and community engagement must be at the forefront of plans.

[1] https://www.ukwa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Savills-UKWA-A4-8pp-Report-Interactive3.pdf

July sees the start of the Festival of Archaeology. The festival helps over half a million people participate in archaeology, explore stories of place, and connect with the environment around them.

To mark the Festival of Archaeology we sat down with Sam Fieldhouse, Community and Education Manager at Wessex Archaeology, to learn more about Wessex’s work to connect people with project archaeology and the power it has to teach and enhance the experiences of individuals and organisations alike.

Wessex Archaeology is the UK’s leading provider of archaeological and heritage services, and an educational charity. Established for 40 years, Wessex offer a range of services with organisations across sectors, including construction, to deliver practical, sustainable solutions to manage the historic environment. Wessex’s experience and knowledge helps projects engage communities and enhances the value of national historical assets.

What gives heritage its unique value?

It can be quite hard to understand life 3,000 years ago, but daily life was very similar. We all come from the same people, so heritage can give people an empathetic understanding of each other. We are all intrinsically connected to one another, we’re intrinsically connected to the land and heritage connects us to all of these things.

For me it’s about using archaeology as a hook, it can be a stimulus for learning about ourselves, building empathy with people who lived in our world in the past. It’s about understanding how the things have changed and it’s about telling that story to communities. Heritage gives us the opportunity to form a sense of place and to look back at where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

Through heritage we have the opportunity facilitate engagement with the landscape, the archaeological process, and those discoveries. From this we enhance well-being and learning about science, culture and heritage.

What do large construction projects unlock in terms of local history and heritage?

Big infrastructure gives us a unique opportunity to see large amounts of archaeology that we would otherwise not be able to. We work with construction projects to celebrate the archaeology and to give communities the opportunity to engage with it for decades to come.

If it wasn’t for these projects, we may never understand the history of certain communities. We’re able to tell people about their history as the their future is being shaped by new infrastructure.

How can archaeology be brought to life for communities?

It’s our drive to tell stories in a way that different audiences will understand. We look at the barriers people may have when interacting with archaeology in order to improve their understanding and enable them to reflect on the historical significance of a site.

We conducted a dig for a new housing project for soldiers returning from Germany and found that 3,000 years ago settlers from another country came to that site. Fast forward to the present and we’re seeing the same story unfold, so we used it as an opportunity for people to think about their legacy – what will they leave behind that people may one day come across. We won’t always make huge discoveries, but we know any find will be of importance to people. We look at ways to collaborate with organisations that invites local communities and wider audiences to discover the history of a project landscape.

How does archaeology shape community engagement for construction projects?

Archaeological activity can be used as a hook to spark interest and it’s a really good way for contractors to engage with communities, build understanding and advocacy,

We provide the opportunity to enhance public perception of a project, unlocking the potential to go beyond what is set out within the planning stages and get people excited and involved in a positive way.

Working with Wessex, Copper has developed engagement strategies and programmes for construction projects, encouraging people to discover the archaeology and heritage that is all around them – unearthing the journey of sites that make local communities so special.

You can find out more about the Festival of Archaeology on their website

As the first quarter of 2022 comes to an end, we have been reflecting on and celebrating the achievements of Copper’s Construction Practice.

From a recruitment perspective we are delighted to have welcomed several new starters to the Construction Practice, to support a strong start to the year and further growth.

While our Director, Caroline Romback, has been appointed to the board of the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) as a non-executive director, enabling us to further contribute to knowledge and best practice sharing across our client, contractor and consultant audiences, and wider industry.

As part of that knowledge sharing, we’ve delivered a range of thought leadership campaigns. Back in February, our paper: ‘Levelling up: a construction perspective’, was published and unpacked across media/social media.  This document helped decipher the contents and reactions to Michael Gove’s Levelling Up White Paper, which sets out how the Government will spread levelling up opportunities more equally across the country and the impact these new policies will have on the construction sector. Our news story analyses the 12 topics incorporated in the paper and how this will impact the future of UK construction.

Also in February, we were proud to highlight talent across the industry as part of National Apprenticeship Week. We drew on the skills of individuals from our clients, featuring some incredible professionals from Transpennine Route Upgrade (East), National Highways, J.P Murphy and Sons, and Eiffage. All those who featured spoke with passion and authority on the benefits of recruiting apprentices.

In March, Copper hosted an industry leaders round table, in partnership with Construction News, focused on how we build back better with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Participating organisations, including HS2, Heathrow, Considerate Constructors Scheme and multiple Tier 1 contractors, shared their insights and best practice from across the sector.

We were also privileged to showcase a diverse range of leading women during Women in Construction Week and International Women’s Day, including features from inspirational women, such as Carolyne Ferguson from Kier Highways, Natalie Penrose from HS2, and our very own Fiona Woolston.

Copper is proud to ‘buck the trend’ with our Construction Practice having such a strong female presence. We’ve long been advocates for inclusivity in the Construction industry and are proud to practice what we preach.

March also saw us confirming our membership of Social Value UK, aligning with our Social Value specialism at Copper and an increasing focus in this area in support of contractors and clients developing early approaches at bid stage, through to on the ground delivery at construction stage.

Our final highlight for March is our response to the Spring Statement Report by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to highlight and explain what the government’s fiscal decisions mean for the UK Construction industry and its impact on our sector in the years to come.

We’re only three months in, but our plans for the rest of the year remain just as ambitious.  Our next exciting event is Net Zero: A Material Consideration. This breakfast panel discussion will feature construction product manufacturers, architects, contractors, and consultancies. It will consider some of the ways in which the built environment can address Net Zero carbon and explore the steps the industry is taking to increase the circularity of the construction industry.

We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Social Value Act by asking Social Value industry experts to contribute to a Copper podcast led campaign and insight report. We look forward to sharing the findings with our network.

We’ll also be attending UK Construction Week (London) in May 2022, the UK’s largest built environment event with various shows and stalls, allowing us to engage with our wider construction colleagues.

For more information on our work, or if you’re interested in discussing this article further, please get in touch with our Director, Caroline Romback, at: caroline.romback@copperconsultancy.com

Challenge

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is part of the Government’s strategy to keep the lights on in the UK. National Grid is building a high-voltage grid connection for the project, between Bridgwater and Seabank near Avonmouth. In 2009, we were tasked to develop and deliver a consultation strategy to support the Development Consent Order application. We have been retained ever since, taking this major project from planning through to construction. The project is in construction, and we continue to support National Grid and its contractors. Our team also works to protect and enhance National Grid’s reputation to leave a positive legacy for the project.

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Insight

Hinkley Point C is a nationally significant infrastructure project and a major investment in the region’s electricity network. However, there was significant local opposition to the proposals throughout the planning and development stages. This posed a risk to the project if it were to continue into the construction stage. We needed to switch the communications approach from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ and reposition the narrative to concentrate on the project’s benefits.

CS-Strategy-v2

Strategy

We worked closely with National Grid’s team to identify and promote positive stories about the project. We used this as the foundation to develop and implement a sustainable programme of project communications. Ensuring that we met the formal requirements of the Development Consent Order.

To minimise the risks of project delays, opposition and criticism we provided clear and timely information to stakeholders about the work in their area. Quickly responding to any concerns. We devised procedures to inform and update local communities and other stakeholders about construction work. Additionally, informing them about the steps National Grid and its contractors take to reduce local impact. We also put processes in place to monitor the mood of local communities, allowing us to identify and respond rapidly to any emerging issues.

Amplify

Since construction started, we have communicated with more than 10,000 households. We also maintain and regular update a project website, making it the ‘go to’ place for stakeholders to learn the latest information. We have established positive relationships with local community groups and parish councils and use these links to help spread information as widely as possible. Should there be any concerns amongst the public, a responsive 24-hour contact centre service enables the local community to get a swift response.

Outcome

Despite the highly disruptive nature of the work, there is widespread public acceptance of the project. A minimal number of complaints have been received and no issues have been escalated by local residents or community stakeholders to the media or their elected members. These successes have given National Grid the confidence to reposition the project narrative going forward. In the future, communications and engagement will place an even greater emphasis on the positive impact and benefits National Grid will bring to the area over the next five years and beyond.