Autumn Party Political Conferences
Inter-city BMF engage the politicians
As memories of the World Cup in Russia faded, the BMF went to the Party Conferences in Brighton, Liverpool and Birmingham. This summer, BMF members were canvassed on policy priorities
and the BMF used these to shape its lobbying.
The backdrop and mood of each was very different. The Liberal Democrat gathering was poorly-attended, with only die-hard party members there. Labour was upbeat, with many more commercial visitors present than in recent years. The Conservatives were tense and inward-looking, making it hard to engage, with party members squabbling over their version of Brexit.
In this blog, Brett Amphlett (BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager) describes who he and John Newcomb (BMF CEO) met and the main topics of relevance to BMF interests:
People, places and policies
To illustrate the extent of our lobbying of Westminster, Whitehall and government in the nations and regions, we thought you would like to see some of those we met.
Liberal Democrats in Brighton
• Lord Andrew Stunell, Construction Spokesman
• Baroness Sue Garden, Further Education & Skills Spokeswoman
• Lord John Shipley, Housing and Northern Powerhouse Spokesman
• Lord Chris Fox, Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Spokesman
The Lib Dems want another Referendum and were scathing of the Government’s handling of negotiations and preparations. With just 12 MPs in the Commons and only one MEP in Strasbourg, the Party relies on 105 peers in the House of Lords. On policy, the BMF discussed:
• better technical education and vocational training & skills (inc. apprenticeships)
• re-introducing the Zero Carbon Homes Standard and improving the energy and thermal performance of buildings
• offsite manufacturing to increase the number of homes using modern methods of construction
• upholding laws on environmental protection and consumer and product standards post-Brexit
• ways that companies can improve the diversity and inclusion of their workers.
Labour in Liverpool
The BMF was fortunate to talk to:
• John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor
• Peter Dowd MP, Shadow Chief Secretary
• Nia Griffiths MP, Shadow Defence Secretary
• Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Education Secretary
• Lesley Laird MP, Shadow Scottish Secretary
• Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister
• Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Pensions Minister
• Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Business and International Trade Minister
• Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
• James Murray, Deputy Mayor of London for Housing
• Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region Mayor
• Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
• Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council
• Cllr Christopher Hammond, Leader of Southampton City Council
• Lord John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister.
Labour wants a General Election and acted like a government-in-waiting.
Shadow Ministers had carefully-worked out (and costed) policies to announce and explain to visitors like the BMF.
Our focus was plans by cities obligated to improve air quality by tackling roadside NO2 emissions. Over the summer, we responded to consultations from Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton Councils. In Liverpool, we met the Mayor and Deputy of Liverpool City Region, and the Leader of Southampton City Council, to make our case.
The BMF understands why it is a serious issue and we support moves to improve air quality, but government must be willing to work with the BMF and its members. Merchants have no choice but to use diesel and we want politicians to grasp there are no realistic alternatives at present.
The BMF has built a reputation as a leading voice on this issue
, nationally and locally. We share common cause with (for example) the Freight Transport Association, British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, Associated British Ports, and bus and taxi operators who all use diesel.
The availability of compliant vehicles is central to our arguments. By the time we get to January 2020, it may not have proved possible for you to adapt - perhaps for technical reasons or no suitable vehicles were available to buy or lease - or there was an insufficient number made to meet demand. A lack of market capacity means that firms will be competing for compliant vehicles before city controls begin in 13 months time.
Conservatives in Birmingham
As the party in Government, security was strict, but we were able to talk to:
• Phillip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
• Chris Grayling MP, Transport Secretary
• Dominic Raab MP, (then) Brexit Secretary
• Robert Buckland MP, Solicitor General
• Alok Sharma MP, Employment Minister
• Kit Malthouse MP, Housing and Planning Minister
• John Glen MP, Treasury Minister
• Thérèse Coffey MP, Environment Minister
• David Rutley MP, Forestry Minister
• Andrew Jones MP, Party Vice-Chairman for Business
• Neil Parish MP, Environment Select Committee Chairman
• Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands
• James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough
• Ben Houchen, Mayor of the Tees Valley
• Cllr Lord Gary Porter, Chairman of Local Government Association
• Lord Mike Whitby, former Leader of Birmingham City Council
• Cllr Robert Alden, Leader of Opposition on Birmingham City Council.
The Conservatives had a slew of announcements. In his platform speech, the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire MP, announced several of relevance to BMF members - not all of them good.
On planning permission
, the Minister will consult on the planning system, land use and vacant buildings.
This includes a new permitted development right to extend upwards on flats, shops and offices. No one wants a repeat of bad high-rise housing, but better use can be made of existing buildings. In the BMF members’ policy priorities survey, 74% voted for simplifying and speeding-up planning permission as their top priority.
On post-Grenfell fire safety
, the Secretary of State confirmed a ban on using combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings. A change in the Building Regulations will mean some materials will not be allowed in new high-rise homes, hospitals, care homes and student accommodation above 18 metres.
In her speech, the Prime Minister announced that local authority borrowing restrictions will be removed, enabling them to build as many as 10,000 extra new council houses a year. Removing the cap on what councils can borrow against their Housing Revenue Account assets is very good news. Narrowing the gap between housing demand and supply is today’s single most important domestic priority. Ministers must use all available levers to ‘Change the Ratio’ between the small number of volume house-builders and the rest to foster a diverse, functioning market for building.
This means freeing local authorities that for too long were seen as vital, but underused players in housing provision. The new Minister for Housing and Planning, Kit Malthouse MP, did 14 fringe meetings and met us at five of them. Mr Malthouse is MP for North West Hampshire, a rural constituency based around Andover. He has been in the job since July 2018 and is the eighth Conservative to hold the post in eight years. He joked that if his smartphone rang, he would try to finish the event before changing jobs.
Kit Malthouse has a difficult job to deliver building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. He has the benefit of a revised National Planning Policy Framework behind him that sets out what will and will not be allowed as developers work to narrow the gap between demand and supply.
The Minister warned housebuilders not to become “like Kodak” suggesting if there is not more innovation, firms risk becoming obsolete. He quoted offsite manufacturing, modern methods of construction and robotic bricklayers.
Asked what yardstick he will be judged by, Mr Malthouse said that was easy, “it’s all about numbers and I want more, better and faster.”
Democratic Unionists in Birmingham
The BMF was in the right place to meet former First Minister Arlene Foster, and Nigel Dodds MP, Deputy Party Leader. There was only one topic for them at the Tory Conference – continued uncertainty and suspicion over UKEU negotiations.
In the last 9 years, the BMF has earned the right to be heard by central and local government and political parties
. We enjoy good relations with politicians of all colours who take us seriously.
Brexit dwarfs everything, but the most pressing issue is the need to boost output, employment and educational achievement in less-well performing areas, compared to London and the South East - the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’.
Further devolution of powers and funds is very much in vogue. There are eight Metro Mayors in England that account for nearly 42% of all economic growth, covering 21 million residents. We have met five Mayors and explained how BMF members deliver for their local communities.
This article appeared in the Winter Edition of One Voice. The posts held by senior politicians were correct at the time of going to press.
If you would like to join the Brexit debate click here to book your place on the new BMF Brexit Forum on 23 January.