Autumn Statement 2016: An engineering perspective

In the first major economic statement following the Brexit vote, Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the Autumn Statement, confirming the state of the national economy and the Government’s plans for spending over the course of the current Parliament.

Here are the headline announcements:

  • 100,000 news homes to be built with new £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund
  • £1.1bn to invest in roads, rail and low emission vehicles

But what does the announcement mean for jobs in the engineering industry?

Buildings jobs

The UK’s housing shortage is well documented in the news. In the buying market, people are struggling to save up for a mortgage deposit - a moving target with the continual rise in house prices – and in the rental space, many are desperately trying to keep up with rental payments which have been increasing at an unprecedented rate in recent years. This is a problem which is particularly prevalent in London, where the average house price is more than £575,000 (Rightmove) and the average monthly rent is £747 (SpareRoom.co.uk).

Aside from placing pressure on thousands of people seeking to find an affordable home, the housing crisis is also having an effect on the nation’s productivity. To address this issue, the Chancellor has proposed a £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund to deliver up to 100,000 new homes and the necessary infrastructure around them including roads and water connections. An additional £1.4bn will be set aside to deliver 40,000 affordable homes including some for shared ownership and some for affordable rent.

With this investment, we expect to see hundreds if not thousands of jobs created within design and construction.

Highways jobs

In the Chancellor’s speech he declared that “this Autumn Statement commits significant additional funding to keep Britain moving now”. Philip Hammond went on to announce the Government would invest more than £1bn in improving the UK’s transport networks. At a time when the highways sector is already seeing significant investment for major road improvement schemes, this will continue to drive momentum.

Out of the £1.1bn figure, £220m will be allocated to tackle traffic hot spots and improve safety on Highways England roads. This will create a range of jobs across the UK which will rely on the skill sets of foremen, supervisors, agents, project managers, planners, quantity surveyors and engineers.

Rail jobs

The rail sector will also get a boost, with £100m towards the East West Rail and a further £10m for development of the central rail section between Bedford and Cambridge. With several high profile rail development projects already underway in London, the promise to accelerate the East West Rail will enhance job opportunities for rail engineers outside of the capital. Chartered Engineers, CAD Technicians, Planners and Quantity Surveyors will likely be among the range of jobs created.

One main theme of the Chancellor’s speech was innovation and within rail, the Government has proposed to spend £450m on trialling railway digital signalling technology. This will help to enhance the capability of the UK’s rail network and improve the reliability of train services which will be welcome news for commuters. Aside from the benefits to passengers, this commitment to trialling technologies will present exciting opportunities for engineers.

Automotive jobs

Along with the promise of improved road networks, the Chancellor also announced plans to invest in the “vehicles of the future” with £390m. This includes £150 million towards new electric and hydrogen buses (as well as support for reducing emissions of taxis and 1,500 existing buses); £100m for testing infrastructure for driverless cars; and £80m for the installation of more charging points for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs).

The automotive industry is arguably one of the most innovative engineering sectors and several car manufacturers have been investing in the development of hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs) for a number of years. In addition to HEV development, automotive manufacturers are also looking to embrace the IoT (Internet of Things) era by developing connected car technology. This technology is opening up opportunities to monetise Big Data in fields such as insurance and 'Pay as you Drive' initiatives.

With the significant investment being made in low emission vehicles, manufacturers will be looking for battery specialists, hybrid systems engineers, software and power electronics engineers. The development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) is also influencing a shift in the skills that vehicle manufacturers and Tier Ones are looking for, from more traditional engineering skills to IT and software skills. 

If the proposed investment in infrastructure and transport goes ahead, a significant number of engineering jobs are likely to be created, not just in London but across the whole of the UK. Whilst this is positive news for keeping engineers in work, it does create further challenges for employers in sectors where there is already a significant shortfall in skills, especially at a time when the impact of Brexit is still relatively unknown.

Image credit: stoyanh / Shutterstock.com

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