This 80-page document should help unite clients and industry in a common goal, says James Wates

James Wates BW 2017

First we had the Outsourcing Playbook (versions one and two), and now we have the Construction Playbook, which the Cabinet Office released towards the end of 2020.

It’s an interesting twist on the American term playbook, which usually refers to a manual of tactics from which American football teams choose during the course of a game. Those teams guard their playbooks with their lives, lest the opposition figure out what’s coming at them.

It’s reassuring therefore that the government’s new Construction Playbook is a good deal more transparent and collaborative than the American football original. In this case, the central government and public sector clients have included all of us in the construction sector in their team. By understanding what’s in the playbook, we can all tackle our work knowing what others are doing and avoiding (to mix football metaphors) scoring own goals.

Put simply, the Construction Playbook is a really comprehensive framework that identifies areas that the government needs to fix, and where the industry itself can do more.

It is reassuring that the 14 policy areas and recommendations in the Construction Playbook reflect a lot of existing good practice, including frameworks like Scape and the Department for Education.

Our goals include spending £25m with social enterprises by 2025 and supporting five social enterprises to achieve national scale

Still, at 80-plus pages, the Construction Playbook may take some time for players to commit to memory. Fortunately, for those who don’t need to know every last detail, Build UK has produced an executive summary, which reduces it down to six pages, and to which the Cabinet Office has given its stamp of approval.

Among other purposes, this executive summary will be a useful introduction to the playbook for decision-makers in local government, as the Cabinet Office would like local authorities to start using it.

Local government will surely welcome the playbook’s emphasis on creating real social value, and the Build UK executive summary highlights this as one of the playbook’s three key objectives: “To promote social value to help local communities recover from covid-19, tackle economic inequality, promote equal opportunities and improve wellbeing”.

The long version of the playbook (perhaps inadvertently) can’t resist sporting metaphors either, arguing that social value “helps to contribute towards a level playing field for the UK’s small businesses, voluntary and community sector organisations and social enterprises”.

I welcome the highlighting of the role of social enterprises. Indeed, the company I chair, the Wates Group, has developed a social value strategy that places a great deal of emphasis on helping social enterprises compete in the national leagues. Our goals include spending £25m with social enterprises by 2025 and supporting five social enterprises to achieve national scale. We know that social enterprises provide excellent value, so why not help them compete in the top tier?

We also recognise that social value is a bigger game than many people realise. Our strategy pushes the boundaries. By 2025, we want to employ one person from groups furthest from the workforce on every project and inspire and educate 25,000 young people about careers in the built environment.

We’re also thinking globally. Our policies on delivering sustainability and social value are closely linked to several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – addressing global challenges including poverty, climate change, inequality and justice.

The sector has been on a social value journey in recent years. It’s great to see that the government is requiring social value to be taken into consideration in the awarding of contracts. The next step will be to incorporate it more rigorously into the delivery. The government’s procurement guidelines allow penalties to be levied when suppliers fail to deliver social value promises, and we are already seeing contracts that make payments contingent on delivering social value promises.

Such rigorous commitment to generating social value is only fair. The government’s “build, build, build” strategy comes with a healthy pipeline, and the sector is being treated as a real partner in the covid-19 recovery.

Government still remains on a quest to improve efficiency and productivity in the delivery of construction contracts, conscious of its over-riding responsibility to provide taxpayers with value for money. But now it is doing so with appropriate attention given to how that spending supports broader economic recovery, including levelling up, and the concept of building back better (and greener). It’s great to see the steady (if slow) movement towards outcome-based procurement and the recognition of quality and carbon reduction objectives.

The Construction Playbook reflects that cooperation between the construction sector and government has never been stronger. A common enemy (covid-19) has put us on the same team, and the ball is in our hands. Let’s play! 

James Wates is chairman of the Wates Group