“Manifestos are lies” so said Nigel Farage when announcing his public contract. It was the first time his words rang true for Squinch. Both the major political parties are promising the undeliverable. More lies like the 2016 Brexit bus promising £350M a week for the NHS. Billions of spending from the magic money tree (borrowing and tax) and 40 hospitals in 5 years. Pinocchio is standing for election both on the right and the left of the political spectrum. In this sound bite election, only a few commentators have pointed out that the planning system is so dismantled, under-skilled, under resourced and bureaucratic that the delivery of dozens of hospitals, hundreds of thousands of new homes, schools and infrastructure is simply impossible. It may be what the UK needs but it is undeliverable in the short-termist world of Twitter politics. The planning system is the starting point for the investment food chain. It is not fit for the purpose of advancing the needs of our society and economy. Planning will never be a topic for winning popular votes but without reinvention, the realisation of any of these manifesto promises will be impossible. Understanding the system and potential solutions has to be an urgent priority for any government after this crucial election.
On average, it will take 5 years or more to design and negotiate a planning consent for a new hospital; the longest lifespan of a potential parliament. That’s before construction even starts. Hence, the delivery of any new hospitals within the life of the next government is at best improbable or most likely impossible. The manifesto promises are “Manifestos are lies” so said Nigel Farage when unachievable, that makes them untrue; that is, lies. Once upon a time, the UK used to laugh about the inefficient announcing his public contract. It was the first bureaucracy of Eastern Europe. Now, without interference or help from Europe, Britain has invented a planning time his words rang true for Squinch. system that is part of the creation of a hospital and housing crisis all by itself. Hospital planning applications cost £millions in consultant fees and the system lacks certainty, adds risk and delay; further increasing cost to the taxpayer.
Once a consent has been granted, where are the builders going to come from? English skilled tradesmen are becoming fewer and many are heading for retirement. The Polish mainstay are leaving for Poland following the Referendum result. About 80% of building materials come from Europe, so new tariffs and customs delays will impact the cost of construction. Shortages of labour will push build costs up and cause further delays. Once these imaginary hospitals are built, where will the nurses and doctors come from? Fairyland? Father Christmas? Today, there are already 100,000 unfilled NHS posts. National Health hospitals and other infrastructure projects are not short-term fixes. Major projects require long-term vision and planning. They also need new solutions.
One of the biggest bottlenecks for hospitals is beds. The length of stay post-surgery is generally only one or two days when care is available at home. Whereas, the elderly who are alone cannot be released for twelve to fourteen days because of lack of social services care available. It is accepted that a hospital is not the best place to get well. Post-operative convalescent homes could be part of the solution at half the price of the cost in a full hospital ward or home visiting carers. They would be smaller, provide more focused care and could be deliverable swiftly on readily available smaller plots of land. Why are alternative solutions not part of current NHS and government thinking? Where is the long-term creative and analytical thinking to come from? It seems to be sadly lacking in the current political debate.
Sustainability will rightly be an essential priority of any major new building programme. Dealing with the energy efficiency of existing and future buildings requires long-term investment as well as creative thinking. The UK has made progress in the generation of renewable energy. If we are to move to all electric cars and less dependence on gas for heating our buildings, the investment in our national power infrastructure needs massive priority. Only twenty-five miles from Central London, there are hospital and housing developments that lack sufficient high voltage electrical supplies to provide electric car charging and clean air heating.
The UK does have the intellectual and creative expertise to advance in the direction necessary to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. These are challenges for every country in the world. Somehow, international sharing of intellectual property and environmental solutions will be paramount in spite of the growth of nationalist populism around the world. Politicians need to place long-term strategies ahead of self-interest if they are to re-establish trust. It is truth that is the basis of trust. Undeliverable manifestos will not achieve that result.