Building Jobs, Skills and Infrastructure post Covid-19

30th June 2020

The government is to invest billions in building jobs, skills and infrastructure for Britain

It will accelerate infrastructure projects to help create jobs and aide economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

The Prime Minister is setting out a programme of investment that will be followed up next week by the Chancellor on 8 July with a Summer Economic Update, announcing measures to boost the economy ahead of the Spending Review and Autumn Budget.

Investment plans include building new homes, more money for the NHS,, tackling skills gaps and improving opportunities, productivity and connectivity across the UK.

Projects to be accelerated totaling an initial £5bn include:

  • £1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance and improving NHS capacity.
  • £100m this year for 29 projects on roads and bridges.
  • Over £1bn to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020-21. These projects will be confirmed in the Autumn, and construction on the first sites will begin from September 2021.  (NOTE - The National Audit Office (NAO) stated in 2017 that the likely cost of bringing all schools up to a satisfactory condition would be £6.7bn).
  • £560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively this year.
  • £142m for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year, £83m for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities, and £60m for temporary prison places.
  • £900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next, as well as £96m to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund this year.

National Infrastructure Strategy

In the Autumn the government will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy which will set a clear direction on core economic infrastructure, including energy networks, road and rail, flood defences and waste.

Environmental projects and jobs

Over 75,000 acres of trees will be planted every year by 2025 to re-forest Britain..

£40m will be pledged to boost local conservation projects and create 3,000 jobs, including new Conservation Rangers, and safeguard a further 2,000 – training young people and others in the community to protect their local environments.

This will help the UK’s move towards capturing and removing CO2 from the atmosphere, protecting biodiversity.

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund will be funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by bringing forward £10 million of money from the Nature Recovery Fund and £30 million of Nature for Climate Funding, so that the money can be spent now.

Organisations will be invited to bid to the fund and details will be set out in due course.

Planning reforms

The government is reforming the planning laws so that change of use of land and buildings in town centres can happen without planning permission to create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.

Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing more easily. The changes include:

  • More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order. A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval. Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to the lifeblood of communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.

  • A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.

  • Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

  • Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

These changes, which are expected to take effect by September, will both support a high street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on green field land by making brownfield development easier.

Developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations, just without the unnecessary red tape.

The Prime Minister also announced that work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

Ahead of the Spending Review, a new cross-government strategy will look at how public sector land can be managed and released so it can be put to better use. This would include home building, improving the environment, contributing to net zero goals and injecting growth opportunities into communities across the country.

These announcements come alongside a package of measures to support home building across England. These include:

  • A £12bn affordable homes programme that will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 8 years, confirmed today.

  • Included in the affordable homes programme will be a 1,500 unit pilot of ‘First Homes’: houses that will be sold to first time buyers at a 30% discount which will remain in perpetuity, keeping them affordable for generations of families to own.

  • Funds from the £400m Brownfield Land Fund have today been allocated to the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, and North of Tyne and Tees Valley to support around 24,000 homes.

  • The Home Builders Fund to help smaller developers access finance for new housing developments will receive additional £450m boost. This is expected to support delivery of around 7,200 new homes.

The government will also launch a planning Policy Paper in July setting out its plan for a comprehensive reform of England’s planning system, to reflect the economy and society.

Balancing the books

While in the long-term the government is committed to "balancing the books", this will not be done at the expense of investing now to boost the economy.

Foe more guidance on getting businesses working again after the Coronavirus, check out our Business After-COVID Knowledge Hub.

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