Government document littered with promises. But can they deliver?

‘Construction 2020’ has plenty of aspirations but is short on detail

Lots of thing will be ‘looked at’ in the construction sector to create 60,000 jobs

Lots of thing will be ‘looked at’ in the construction sector to create 60,000 jobs

Thu, May 15, 2014, 09:47

In any description of Construction 2020 it would be easy to slip into cliche: the 72-page document contains plenty of worthy sounding aspirations but is very short of details.

Governments are, of course, good at this sort of thing. But if one thing stands out, it is the lack of governance.

All plans of this nature require clear lines of responsibility; identification of who is accountable; how things will be measured and who will police the whole thing; where are the decision-making rights; and who fires the incompetent?

Poor governance can be defined as vaguely-defined goals, letting everybody have a say, ineffective monitoring of things along the way and the absence of any enforcement.

In fairness, the goal, at least, is clear: 60,000 jobs by the year 2020.

Just how we get there is not so well articulated.

The document is littered with promises that begin “we will establish” or “we will put in place”. We also learn the the Government will “examine” and “ develop” a lot of things.

The point of all of this activity is less than clear. References to new “working groups” and “taskforces” will elicit a groan from those who have already been disappointed by the lack of quango-killing displayed by the Coalition.

Lots of things will, it seems, be “looked at”.

The planning process and its overhaul, for example, will receive a stern examination: “ a national planning framework, a Policy Statement on Planning and a new Planning Bill, will build on previous improvements to the planning process and ensure that, through proper planning appropriate development requirements are both identified and approved”.

That’s five uses of the word planning, albeit with different degrees of capitalisation; we are, nevertheless, left none the wiser about how the planning process will evolve.

Lack of credit
The banks are central to all this. The document is good at identifying the issues. Lack of credit is at the heart of a lot of problems.

Apparently we can even expect some new banks in Ireland. Aspirational indeed.

We are told that banks are “highlighting the lack of supply of houses in particular urban areas as a contributing factor for the lack of drawdown of approved mortgage facilities”.

This is really important: it is a clear statement that there is a bigger problem with housing supply than there is with the availability of mortgages.

Mortgage demand
So why then introduce a mortgage insurance scheme? Why act on mortgage demand rather than housing supply?

The examples of the UK and Canada are cited, with apparent approval, of countries that have done this already.

No mention is made of their current and very obvious housing bubbles. Canada looks as overvalued as Ireland did about 2007.

Pushing up demand to try to influence supply is a curious policy choice. Prices will rise, of that there can be no doubt. The supply of houses may indeed rise, as will construction jobs, but that is probably going to happen regardless.

The one thing that is missing from the plan is money. A virtually expenditure-free jobs boost will be a minor miracle.

The lack of money is mirrored by a lack of simple understanding of how supply and demand work together.

It seems that the often-identified lack of economic expertise in the great departments of State has yet to be rectified.

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