Six months into the job of government construction adviser, Peter Hansford highlights the importance of the forthcoming industrial strategy for our sector


It is now just over six months since I started as the government’s chief construction adviser. At around that time the business secretary Vince Cable launched his overarching industrial strategy. He was clear that he wanted one part of that strategy to be a specific construction strand and that this should be developed through a partnership between the construction industry and government. My own position, based in government but not part of it, having spent a career in the industry, meant that I was well placed to lead on developing that strategy.

Construction is at the heart of the economy, yet perhaps has struggled to “punch its weight” with government. Developing a long-term strategy for construction provides us with a great opportunity to tackle that head on.

The Government Construction Strategy has also set in motion a number of initiatives that are bearing fruit. The industrial strategy for construction will build on that and other initiatives to give industry momentum to grow through innovation. It is clear that there is already plenty of good work under way.

Government is doing much in its role as a client. A key feature of its approach has been its strong commitment to Building Information Modelling (BIM). Demonstration projects, notably the Ministry of Justice’s Cookham Wood, are beginning to show the efficiency savings that can be achieved using BIM. But we are just scratching the surface of digital’s potential to transform our industry and what we build.

Through events like the Government Construction Summit, government is ensuring the industry is informed about the implications of policy decisions right through the supply chain

The Green Construction Board is providing a forum for industry to work with government on getting us geared up for the low carbon economy. My emphasis has always been on green construction as a massive business opportunity for this industry, at all levels of the supply chain. The Low Carbon Routemap for the Built Environment, launched at Ecobuild, sets out the scale of that opportunity. But it also brings home the enormous challenge of meeting our long-term emission reduction targets.

These initiatives are starting to deliver tangible benefits, and I think we can be proud of how far we’ve come, both in government and industry. However, there is still much to do.

In developing an industrial strategy for construction, I have been keen to establish how the various initiatives fit together; to draw links between what might seem disparate programmes of work. So, for example, government has used its power as a procurer to drive forward the BIM programme by mandating Level 2 on all public sector projects by 2016. There is a clear link between the Government Construction Strategy and the BIM strategy. But what about the potential of BIM to help us achieve our ambitions in low carbon construction? Similarly, we have been pursuing the cost and efficiency agenda alongside the low carbon agenda, but how do these initiatives fit together?

And it’s important to place construction in a wider policy context. The government has protected capital spending, and focused it on infrastructure so that, capital spending as a percentage of GDP is higher during this parliament and the next. Great emphasis has been placed by government on reforming the planning system, and on kick starting projects struggling to find finance by providing guarantees for infrastructure and housing.

For the first time government has set out its priorities in the National Infrastructure Plan and infrastructure pipeline to provide greater visibility for industry, and is working closely with all aspects of the infrastructure sector through the cost review to reduce construction cost by 15% by 2015. Through events like the Government Construction Summit, government is ensuring that the industry is properly informed about the implications of policy decisions right through the supply chain - making it easier for it to understand and respond to the industry’s needs.

We must also look to other industrial sectors that have developed strong partnerships with government. Life sciences and aerospace are two sectors that have already launched their industrial strategies. These have focused attention on key areas where joint action is needed to build the UK’s global competitiveness, therefore securing jobs and growth. This acts as a springboard for firm commitments from both government and industry. That is what we must strive to achieve in construction.

The publication of the industrial strategy for construction will be the starting point. Its key feature, and one I have been eager to emphasise at every opportunity, is that it is a joint industry and government strategy. I am grateful for the guidance of the Construction Industrial Strategy Advisory Council during the development of the strategy. It, along with participants from right across the industry and government, is helping to develop a compelling vision of where we want this industry to be in 2025; focusing on our strengths, tackling the challenges we face head on and gearing ourselves up to make the most of opportunities at home and abroad.

The strategy displays real ambition. Now we must go out and make it happen. And that will require real leadership.

Peter Hansford is the government’s chief construction adviser