I read with interest Building’s recent article on the data for construction from the Office for National Statistics (“Newport, we have a problem”, 20 August, building.co.uk)
The report that the 1.3% rise in new work was attributed mostly to public sector and infrastructure projects was alarming. We are all too aware of the need for the construction industry to reduce its reliance on these sectors, especially at a time when Building Schools for the Future and the regional spatial strategies have been savaged by cuts.
It’s clear to me that the construction consultancies that will best weather the era of austerity will be the ones that have diversified their sector specialisms. Gone are the major infrastructure projects with their big budgets. Firms will be forced to target new markets. Universities, further and higher education colleges, the NHS and local authorities will all face major reductions in their budgets so there will have to be a focus on the few sectors where investment is likely, such as maintenance and repair projects and environmental initiatives.
At present, I do not foresee the private sector taking up the slack, certainly not in the short term, and I think that British consultants will increasingly need to have an export focus if they hope to prosper rather than merely survive. This will require a cultural change as operating as an international enterprise is radically different from operating in a primarily domestic environment. Consultancies that fail to do so will simply get left behind.
Alister Coutts, partner, Robinson Low Francis