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Construction: no concrete announcements

The reaction from the construction industry to chancellor George Osborne's "unashamedly pro-business" budget has been one long collective "so what?"

As an announcement it was seriously overshadowed by the Prime Minister's speech on infrastructure on Monday - which signalled a partial road privatisation and a consultation on new airports in the South East. So by the time Osborne stood up at 12.30 yesterday, there were few rabbits left in the hat, with just one genuinely new spending announcement - of a mere £130m on an important rail scheme in Manchester. Small beer for Budget day.

In general, the construction industry - think high-profile Thatcher supporters such as Lawrie Barratt, or the McAlpine clan - is a conservative bunch and supports the rhetoric of Osborne's industrial strategy: to focus what little remaining public spending there is on large-scale infrastructure projects.

It says something for how conservative they are that they have broadly backed steep cuts in capital spending - such as to Labour's £50bn school building programme - despite it leading to predictions of a 5 per cent recession for the construction industry in 2012.

But even naturally blue company directors were left scratching their heads to find anything of value in yesterday's announcement. The problem is, the rhetoric around rebuilding the nation's infrastructure is at the moment just that - rhetoric. Where were the concrete announcements needed to fill the gap between the public funding being cut, and the private sector funds expected to come in?

In the autumn the Chancellor said he would get pension funds to stump up £20bn to pay for new roads and low carbon energy projects. Yesterday he revealed the actual figure raised was just £2bn. Remember that many of the cuts to public funding of construction are still to come.

Last autumn he said that private finance initiative, which, despite its many problems, is the most proven method of getting private capital to pay for public goods, was under fundamental review and effectively closed as a procurement route to the public sector. Yesterday's Budget gave no idea of the way forward there, meaning many schemes remain on hold.

On a whole range of areas - from the Green Investment Bank, to planning reform and local government borrowing powers to fund building - Osborne ducked key decisions. So if builders were hoping this budget would turn rhetoric in to rock-solid practicalities, they were disappointed.

And it was not without nasty surprises too - look in the numbers and it turns out government capital spending will fall £1.1bn faster than predicted in October for each of the next two years. The Treasury documents also say central government may restrict local authority borrowing to build new homes, despite having just agreed "localist" deals with councils who are planning construction programmes on the back of them.

The final verdict? - We're still waiting.

Joey Gardiner is assistant editor at Building magazine

Joey Gardiner is assistant editor at Building magazine