A mix of policy initiatives and fiscal stimulus is just what construction needs, says Keith Waller
As I write this, over 20 million of our friends, family members and co-workers have received their first dose of a lifesaving covid vaccine. The glimmer of light at the end of the long and bleak tunnel that has been the past twelve months of our lives is growing brighter by the day. With life slowly, but surely, returning to some semblance of normality, the focus is now rightly shifting to how we rebuild our battered economy and inject some badly needed certainty and confidence.
Budget 2021, announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak on today, strikes the delicate, but crucial, balance between fuelling recovery and driving real change. Nowhere is this balance more necessary than in construction. Some might argue that the chancellor’s focus right now should be solely on stimulating growth; that we should put the transformation agenda on the backburner until the economy has stabilised. This would have been a serious mistake. Irrespective of covid, we would still need to regenerate regions across the UK to support levelling up our economy, accelerate our path towards net zero and transform the productivity and performance of our sector.
From the early days of the crisis, our sector, under the decisive leadership of the CLC, agreed that a return to business must not mean a return to business as usual. The never-ending cycle of lockdowns and restrictions brought about in response to covid sent a wrecking ball through the certainty we used to take for granted as a sector. But the crisis has also given us a unique opportunity to pause and reflect on the kind of future we want for our sector – and for the society which depends upon it.
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Thanks to the ambitious plans and measures put in place by the CLC through the Roadmap to Recovery and government through the Construction Playbook, we now have both a clear vision for the future and a pathway towards it. As a sector, we’ve committed ourselves to a radical shift towards modern, efficient, and sustainable ways of working. Government, in bringing to bear to its enormous buying power as a client, will play a crucial role in helping us get there. The mix of policy and fiscal measures announced in the budget, shows that government is clearly determined to continue in this vein.
Some might argue that the Chancellor’s focus right now should be solely on stimulating growth; that we should put the transformation agenda on the backburner until the economy has stabilised. This would have been a serious mistake
I’m particularly encouraged by the creation of a new UK Infrastructure Bank to support efforts in tackling climate change and driving regional and economic growth. The new freeports in Liverpool, Teeside, Plymouth and elsewhere around the country, together with the new town deals will spur infrastructure investment, giving a much needed boost to regional construction firms as well as support the levelling up agenda.
There was also good news on the skills and training front. The decision to double the incentives available to take on new apprentices and to triple the number of traineeships will come as welcome news to construction firms seeking to grow their expertise and enhance their capabilities, which of course is crucial to the ongoing transformation of our sector.
Transformation must be broad and all-encompassing
From cutting our carbon footprint, to embracing, wholeheartedly, the digital revolution, the transformation of our sector must be broad and all-encompassing. But the good news is that we are already well on the way. When we launched the Construction Innovation Hub almost three years ago, one of our stated goals was to “unlock and harness the innovative potential” we knew was already there within our sector. Our success in this endeavour is evidenced through the suite of game-changing tools and processes which we’ve developed in close collaboration with innovators from every corner of construction. Let me give a few examples:
- Our Value Toolkit will enable better, more informed decisions, right from the outset and throughout the lifecycle of an asset;
- Our Platform Rulebook will help to lay the foundations for a thriving UK market for platform construction systems; and,
- Our Government Soft Landings Navigator is helping clients and supply chain partners drive efficiencies and maximise the value of data, helping to generate a ‘golden thread’ of asset information that is curated throughout the lifecycle.
Each of the above initiatives is, in its own right, an enabler of change. Transformation, however, is best delivered in the round. A school delivered using a platform construction system, for instance, will only deliver to its full potential if it is designed using value-led approaches and cutting-edge digital tools and processes. For this reason, we have worked hard to ensure that each of the tools, systems and process we develop through our programme integrate with and complement one another.
To better illustrate how the Hub’s collaborative initiatives like the Value Toolkit and the Platform Design Programme work together in tandem and to underscore the vital importance of viewing transformation in the round, we have produced a short video animation which we’ve shared on the Hub’s website and social media channels. This vision aligns with the ambitions we have seen set out in today’s budget.
I feel a real sense of optimism for what the next few months and years will hold. This feeling is, of course, driven by the huge strides we’ve made as a country in tackling the pandemic and vaccinating a huge proportion of our population. But I’m also buoyed by the palpable sense of ambition and determination which is evident in every corner of our sector.
We’re on the home stretch; let’s keep moving forward, together.
Keith Waller is the programme director at the Construction Innovation Hub