As the cost of providing public services continues to grow, the industry must take the opportunity to understand service outcomes from infrastructure investment. Getting the brief right is fundamental.
Given the size of the UK construction industry and its impact of GDP, boosting productivity and improving delivery efficiency is clearly critical to the growth of the economy. But are we sure that we are building the right assets? In short, are we working to the right brief?
Despite decades of work and initiatives to reverse the situation, our failure to invest in innovation and the ongoing reluctance to embrace modern methods of construction means that we lag behind some of our closest global competitors in a way that continues to hold back the nation.
We need to build better. Not only do we need to get more value from the annual £89bn Capex spend seen across UK public infrastructure, but we also need to switch on to the concept of whole life performance so as to maximise the value from the £122bn Opex spend invested each year to keep our assets performing.
Together these are vast amounts of public money which, if spent effectively, have the power to change lives. But compared to the £597bn invested each year by government on the services that utilise and benefit from this infrastructure, it is small fry. Boost efficiency here – in the way that the NHS, the prison service or the education department uses its assets – and we will really start to see efficiencies at scale.
These are vast amounts of public money which, if spent effectively, have the power to change lives
Getting this right means working to the right brief and understanding that, for virtually every client – public and private sector – construction is a pretty small part of the overall process of delivering their outcomes.
Don’t get me wrong; the ability to save 20 per cent on the cost of a school through the use of BIM is fundamental and the concepts pioneered in the UK with the Level 2 programme are being embraced around the world. My point is that from this fantastic start we now have the opportunity and the tools to radically disrupt the way assets impact service provision.
It starts, as always, with the right brief and a clear understanding of what drives the desired outcomes for clients.
Take the NHS. Some 12 per cent of its budget is spent on mental health services, an area in which, according to many studies, outcomes are massively impacted by the quality of treatment facilities and residential accommodation. Intuitively this is obvious, yet, virtually all the effort and focus when it comes to the management of NHS infrastructure is on ensuring we constantly squeeze down the amount that is invested in these vital facilities.
As pressure has grown on the public purse, our ability to control the overall spend through adopting the correct brief has got progressively worse
As it the case across the NHS, education, prison and virtually every sector of public service, we spend effort reducing the cost of investment in infrastructure assets but very little time or thought linking this investment back to the overarching outcomes desired by the client.
Fundamentally, the brief is wrong; we are unable to deliver the outcomes that really matter to the customers and to the nation. Worse still, as pressure has grown on the public purse, our ability to control the overall spend through adopting the correct brief has got progressively worse as our gaze has been drawn to the wrong priorities.
Understanding this gives an opportunity to change the way we approach investment in our public services. By embracing digital technology and data analytics we have the opportunity to review the drivers behind the brief and to better understand their impact towards specific outcomes. It is not a linear process.
As the cost of providing public services continues to grow we must take this opportunity to understand service outcomes from infrastructure investment – how traffic congestion impacts healthcare; how school accommodation impacts exam results; how decent social housing impacts crime.
Getting the brief right is fundamental.