The Defence Infrastructure Organisation could be the industry’s new best friend – at least, for those who play the game right

This is about regime change. At the beginning of April, after a prolonged gestation deep in the corridors of Whitehall, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation was born. And we’re only just beginning to fathom its mission - nothing less than the biggest overhaul of defence strategy in a generation. The MoD’s new property arm replaces Defence Estates, and its mission is to cut costs, overhaul procurement, and - should you believe the rhetoric - shred bid costs for contractors along the way. Defence Estates first began to drive efficiency savings through its £100m cost saving programme that scrutinised facilities contracts, but the scale of the operation needed not just a change of gear, but a change of vehicle. Hence the construction industry’s new best friend, the DIO.

So, what’s at stake? A property estate valued at over £20bn including airbases, major training facilities, 500,000 homes and an annual construction budget close to £3bn. And the DIO has big objectives. There are plans for new procurement frameworks for smaller works, an upgrade of the existing estate and then, over the next 12 months, a roll-out of a masterplan for major structural and procurement changes, which will be ready to be implemented in 2013.

The construction industry can confidently expect this client to act with precision and consistency and its programme of transformation will no doubt generate a load of work for private sector developers. But the key to success is, as always, wrapped up in the localism agenda and what stakeholders need and want. Construction firms need to come to the negotiation table in the right spirit and with the right ideas, to work in partnership with the MoD finding out where and how, and in the best interests of all involved, this organisation’s many assets can be improved. This may - contractors should be aware - involve some personal sacrifice and plenty of fierce competition, both for frameworks and individual jobs. But as the armed forces know well, operational success relies on imagination, ambition, energy and the will to all pull together.       

Tom Broughton, brand director

Lest we forget

As construction workers who have lost their lives are remembered on International Workers’ Memorial Day today (Thursday), it is worth also pausing to reflect on the current state of health and safety in the industry. Construction’s notoriously high number of fatalities has, thankfully, declined over the past three years - but this has in no small part been influenced by the lower numbers of workers on site during the recession. Final figures for 2010-11 have not yet been released by the HSE, but alarmingly union Ucatt says provisional data suggests a rise of 15% in the number of deaths. That this increase comes despite the continuing tough economic conditions is a worrying signal that, even before HSE budget cuts of 35% have hit home, the industry is slipping back into some of its past faults. Construction firms should not forget the progress made since the industry’s poor safety record drew government attention in the late nineties. The pressures on the HSE mean that there is more onus than ever before on firms to follow the lead of the best in the sector, without waiting until it’s too late.