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How the new government could change key UK engineering sectors

Professional Engineering

Keir Starmer's Labour government has already set out plans for energy, rail and more (Credit: Martin Suker/ Shutterstock)
Keir Starmer's Labour government has already set out plans for energy, rail and more (Credit: Martin Suker/ Shutterstock)

“Change begins now,” was the message from prime minister Keir Starmer as he celebrated Labour’s landslide election win. But how will engineering change under the new government?

Cabinet ministers have already made a flurry of announcements, setting out clear new directions following 14 years of Conservative government. Labour’s manifesto – the only one to explicitly use the word ‘engineering’ – provides further clues to the changes we could see in the coming weeks, months and years.

Here is a look at what some of the most significant changes could be across four key engineering areas.


One of the biggest early changes, announced yesterday (8 July) by chancellor Rachel Reeves, is an end to what she called the “absurd” de facto ban on new onshore wind farms, in place since 2015.

“Delivering our clean power mission will help boost Britain’s energy independence, save money on energy bills, support high-skilled jobs and tackle the climate crisis. We are therefore committed to doubling onshore wind energy by 2030,” a policy statement said.

The move will bring cheaper bills for consumers and strengthen energy security, said trade organisation RenewableUK.

“Lifting the onshore wind ban in England was long overdue and we're delighted that Labour has made this one of its first priorities in office. This shows that the new government is determined to act fast to tackle some of the longstanding barriers which have held the UK back on developing vital new clean energy infrastructure,” said chief executive Dan McGrail.

Public support for onshore wind stands at 78%, he continued, and the onshore wind industry is “committed to ensuring that communities are properly consulted about any proposals, including the wide range of economic benefits they will bring”.

He added: “Modern turbines are substantially more efficient and powerful than the turbines built in previous decades, so doubling the UK’s onshore wind capacity by 2030 won’t mean doubling the number of turbines in the UK. We can generate more power from fewer new turbines, and we can replace older turbines with far more powerful ones, making the most of our superb natural wind resources.

“Our research shows that delivering 30GW of onshore wind by the end of the decade would boost the economy by £45bn and create 27,000 jobs.”

Other priorities for energy secretary Ed Miliband include setting up Great British Energy, a publicly owned company that will invest in clean energy projects, including emerging technologies such as floating wind and tidal power.


Released in April, Labour’s plan for rail set out its key aims. Policies include bringing train operators under public ownership and control, and establishing Great British Railways (GBR) to “achieve high standards in our rail services” and expand the use of rail freight.

Rolling stock will not be renationalised as part of reforms, however, and GBR will instead continue to lease it. “We will develop a long-term industrial strategy for rolling stock which supports British manufacturing, innovation and interoperability and aligns with the wider objectives of the industry,” the document continued.

Other questions remain for engineers working in the sector, previous Professional Engineering analysis found, including the scale of investment and the future of Network Rail. Labour has previously said it will not revive plans for HS2 to travel north of Birmingham.

The Railway Industry Association (RIA) congratulated the party following its election win. “Labour has pledged to bring forward a strong pipeline of work for the rail supply sector and to develop a long-term industrial strategy for rolling stock,” said chief executive Darren Caplan.

“RIA and our members now look forward to working with the new government to achieve its goals for rail. With passenger growth returning strongly, and as we seek a fresh start for the UK railway industry, we urge the new government to deliver on our and our members’ five main RIA Manifesto asks: to publish a long-term rail strategy; bring about railway industry reform; accelerate new train orders and low carbon network upgrades; support a sustainable supply chain; and leverage private investment.”

Education and skills

Manifesto commitments included a comprehensive strategy for post-16 education, and a guarantee of training, an apprenticeship or help finding work for all 18- to 21-year-olds. Other pledges include ‘Technical Excellence Colleges’ that will work with businesses to provide the “highly trained workforce that local economies need”.

“These ambitious educational reforms will help to cultivate and develop a highly skilled engineering workforce ready to meet the demands of a modernised and technology-driven economy,” wrote Dr Laura Kent, IMechE public affairs and policy advisor, in a response to the election result.

“Engineers will benefit from enhanced training programmes, greater collaboration with industry, and more robust support for research and development.”

Elsewhere, education and careers-focused EngineeringUK urged the government to commit to investing in teacher professional development amidst “severe and growing” STEM teacher shortages – over 1,600 vacancies, compared to roughly 1,300 a year ago.  

Chief executive Hilary Leevers said: “As the new government has rightly recognised, we need to nurture a greater pool of talent in engineering and technology, including more apprenticeship opportunities for young people, to meet current demand and to help our economy to thrive and to achieve our net zero goal.  

“We have been asking for a national engineering and technology workforce strategy for some time, to streamline coherent action and replace the current approach of different areas developing their own solutions in isolation, and sometimes, effectively, in competition.   

“In order to address skills shortages in the future, the workforce strategy needs to link to a comprehensive education and skills plan underpinned by enhanced careers advice in schools and an urgent solution to current STEM teacher shortages. We will be doing what we can to support the new government in taking action to turbocharge the sector.” 

Construction and building services

Reforming the planning system is central to many of the government’s key aims, including building 1.5m new homes in the next five years. Moves will include identifying and unblocking ‘stalled sites’ to progress large housing schemes, including four that could provide 14,000 homes, and launching a ‘growth-focused’ National Planning Policy Framework to include mandatory housing targets and a requirement to review greenbelt boundaries.

Previous plans to insulate 19m over a decade were cut earlier this year as Labour slashed its planned green investments, with annual spending of £6bn reduced to £1.3bn.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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