The Government Construction Summit demonstrated that the industry is improving, with collaborative working and smarter procurement. But progress must be judged in years, not months, says Don Ward
Lord Deighton is always refreshing, and he opened the Government Construction Summit by promising “it is not about new initiatives but getting stuff done”. Ironically he was followed onto stage by Michael Fallon to launch the Industrial Strategy for construction. OK, the strategy is more of a vision than an initiative, targeting 33-50% improvements by 2025 in costs (thankfully both capex and whole life are mentioned this time), time, emissions and exports performance, and is silent on how to achieve these, so a lot of faith is put in the new Construction Leadership Council to deliver on the how. This council has lots of progress to build on and plenty of ideas to draw on from organisations such as Constructing Excellence, BRE, Buildoffsite and in academia. Let’s hope it wants them.
As one questioner noted, we have had ambitious target before, to which Fallon replied that compared with Egan [and Latham] the new strategy has commitment from ministers and industry leaders. I don’t recall a lack of commitment when hundreds of industry leaders attended the launch of Rethinking Construction in 1998, or when Nick Raynsford was construction minister, or from thousands upon thousands of people who have engaged in the Constructing Excellence movement ever since.
This “radical transformation” to 2025 is not radical any more, it has been socialised for at least 20 years and we are well on the way, but if ministers are signalling that their interest in our sector will last beyond the run-up to the next election then that is welcome. We are “a fantastic industry”, as Deighton said, but an industry inherently slow to change because our projects and hence learning cycles are longer than other sectors, so you have to judge progress in years not months, and that doesn’t often suit political attention spans.
Other highlights of the Summit for me included:
- Our early outputs from the government’s trial projects programme already indicate that smarter procurement focusing on earlier supply chain involvement is delivering 10-20% improvements in value for money.
- The latest report on government cost benchmarks - a classic example that if you measure it then you can start to manage it. The bigger departments are getting a better handle on what the built environment should cost, and sharing ideas for managing project performance better.
- BIM, of course - the best example since the safety summit of 2001 of how a concerted government intervention can speed up change in the sector.
- The strategy refers to improving the bridge between industry and research, and as our own conference with 25 universities last week showed, this feeling is absolutely shared by academics and the industry research organisations.
- Hansford referred to occupational health as needing the same focus that safety has had, our Clients Group deserves credit for raising this.
Above all, the Summit confirmed a buy-in to collaborative working and integration. Hansford pointed to a major need for the skills of transformational change within the sector, and to quote Deighton, “it’s now all about delivery”.
Don Ward is chief executive of Constructing Excellence