Getting industry and government to deliver this strategy is a huge challenge

Joey Gardiner

This was a big week for the not so new chief construction adviser, Peter Hansford. The former Institution of Civil Engineers president started his two-year term in December last year, shortly after business secretary Vince Cable had laid out his vision of industrial strategies for key sectors of the UK economy. It quickly became clear that drawing together this plan would be Hansford’s most important task for the first year of his tenure.

In a way, you have to feel for him: the industrial strategy, though he’d never admit it, could have been a bit of a “hospital pass”, to use the sports term. After all, the strategy entails no new funding commitments from government, and following the wholesale reviews of Egan, Latham and Wolstenholme, and predecessor Paul Morrell’s meticulous Construction Strategy, there is in reality nothing new to say about the ways in which the industry needs to change.

So given this tough brief, how has he done? While it is easy to object to the fairly vague nature of the strategy’s 10 commitments, Hansford should be applauded for not trying to re-invent the wheel in terms of content. The main themes, with the exception of international expansion, were all well-worn tropes: integration; sustainability; skills and diversity of appeal; research, development and innovation; and technology.

Hansford is right to say that the important part of what was outlined this week is not so much the document itself, but the act of collaboration between the industry and government to produce it. It’s not new ideas that are needed, but a new way to turn existing ideas into reality.

The civil engineer and project management specialist is thought of in some quarters as a process man – not big on inspiration. There is a case for saying that this is exactly what is needed. Someone to drive take-up of ideas the industry has already accepted in principle. In this, we won’t know if Hansford has been a success for some time.

Joey Gardiner is assistant editor on Building