As we head towards Brexit, the Construction Leadership Council continues to build foundations to ensure stability and robustness in the industry

ann bentley bw 2017 web

There’s been a hive of political activity over the last few months with party conferences taking place in Brighton, Liverpool and Birmingham and time ticking as we edge closer to Britain Brexiting. It’s not pure coincidence that it is also a time when we here at Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) are considering the macro view.

I am writing this from Australia – attending an RLB Global meeting to share best practice, discuss worldwide concerns and work together to provide better, and smarter, construction solutions. 

With the chancellor pulling the Budget forward, I wonder if this is the one that gets the country ready for Brexit?

Like most in the industry, I watched the party conferences interested to hear what prime minister Theresa May and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn had to say about how to stimulate growth, reduce the impact of the loss of migrant labour post-Brexit and encourage trade in our new world after March 2019. 

With the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, pulling the budget forward to the end of October ahead of critical EU discussions, I wonder if this is the budget that gets the country ready for Brexit?

And this is all against the backdrop of the China-US trade war, the falling value of the pound and the general level of uncertainty that is close to overwhelming the construction sector.

Tied into the value model comes the need to ensure that all parties in the supply chain take responsibility for the outcome

In my role at the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), and at RLB, we have also been looking to the future, trying to plan for all scenarios while putting solid foundations in place to ensure stability, longevity and robustness in our industry. 

Our first step was to welcome the Industrial Strategy late last year, followed by the sector deal in July that set out the stall for delivering an ambitious construction programme. With a £44bn spend on housing and a vision to build a house in weeks at a third of the cost, and £600bn on major infrastructure projects, it heralds a time of great industrial opportunities for us as a nation. This was backed with the Clean Growth Grand Challenge that sets out to halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030.

The CLC’s manifesto is supported by solid plans of how we will achieve this – building on the Industrial Strategy’s five foundations of productivity:

  • Ideas Invest in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 by increasing tax credit and investing £725m in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programmes.
  • People Establish an education system to rival the best globally, invest in STEM subjects to encourage talent into the sector, and create a national retraining scheme to support those already in it. 
  • Infrastructure The National Productivity Investment Fund has been increased to £ 31bn with major infrastructure improvements across the country, a boost to eco-travel with electric vehicles, and £ 1bn public investment for UK digital infrastructure.
  • Business environment The launch of the Transforming Construction sector deal, the incubation of the British Business Bank with a £ 2.5 bn investment programme, and actions to improve productivity and growth in SMEs.
  • Places Local industrial strategies to build on local economic opportunities, creating a Transforming Cities fund to provide £1.7bn for transport and £42m to pilot a teacher development premium.

A further step in this process was producing the CLC’s Procuring for Value report, which delved deeper into how we could achieve some of these goals as a sector. It encourages a real-life value approach to procurement that maximises the industry’s productivity, deals with risk and reinforces accountability at every stage of every design and build. 

Formed out of this is the value model that the CLC’s Supply Chain and Business Models work stream is developing to help clients, designers and all tiers within the built environment chain consider the real cost/value/risk balance between different outcome scenarios.

Tied into the value model comes the need to ensure that all parties in the supply chain take responsibility for the final outcome of the build well after it is handed over. As with May’s rally for “party unity” and Corbyn’s “for the many not the few”, by working together for the greater good we as a sector have the capability to design and build with the best outcomes in mind – placing the emphasis not on individual performance and achievement but on building as a continuum, with all parties taking a performance-based approach rather than a purely linear one. 

Our third step is talking with the industry and the government. While not quite a party conference, we are gathering together many in the industry at the CLC leaders’ briefing and sector deal implementation round tables taking place on 24 October to discuss the issues at the heart of our sector. These workshops will engage with all tiers of the industry to give a progress update on where are on our journey to deliver our ambitious construction programme.

As both the main party leaders have acknowledged, the next year will be interesting and an exciting, if somewhat daunting, time for many of us running businesses in the UK. As we enter a new dawn we need to think about how we continue to build in Britain. We hope that the foundations are beginning to be laid and that together we can work towards an industry with focus, direction and a delivery plan.

Ann Bentley is a global board director of Rider Levett Bucknall and a member of the UK government’s Construction Leadership Council – of whose report Procuring for Value she is the author – and also a member of the CBI’s Construction Council