The government’s strategy document outlined a utopian vision for construction. What happened?

Richard Steer 2014

Who remembers what they were doing on 2 July 2013?

Washing the car perhaps? Watching the cricket? Or perhaps you were buried deep in spreadsheets working out how to deliver a competitive tender in an economy, which at that time, was still struggling to flicker into life under the gentle prodding of the UK Treasury.

I remember where I was. It’s sad I know, but I was busy leafing through the Construction 2025 strategy document from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. It set out “a vision and a plan for long-term strategic action by government and industry to continue to work together to promote the success of the UK construction sector”. Just under two years ago they chose five shining beacons of hope towards which we could steer our industry. In the utopian world of Construction 2025 we would have:

The idea of cutting costs in an industry that was working on margins as thin as a piece of Rizla paper was about as realistic as persuading Nigel Farage to retire

An industry that attracts and retains a diverse group of multi-talented people, operating under considerably safer and healthier conditions.

A UK industry that leads the world in research and innovation, transformed by digital design, advanced materials and new technologies.

An industry that has become more sustainable through its efficient approach to delivering low carbon assets more quickly and at a lower cost, underpinned by strong, integrated supply chains.

An industry that drives and sustains growth across the entire economy by designing, manufacturing, building and maintaining assets which deliver whole life value for customers.

An industry with clear leadership from a Construction Leadership Council that reflects a strong and enduring partnership between industry and the government.

In summary a more diverse and safer industry, adopting BIM and its successors working under Green principles improving productivity, selling more abroad and being led by one NGO rather than a plethora of trade associations, institutes and learned bodies.

To help achieve this, Construction 2025 contained four numerical targets:

  • A 33% reduction in the initial cost of construction and the whole life costs of built assets
  • A 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment
  • A 50% reduction in the overall time, from inception to completion, for new build and refurbished assets
  • A 50% reduction in the trade gap that exists between total exports and total imports for construction products and materials.

At the time I suggested that the idea of cutting costs in an industry that was working on margins as thin as a piece of Rizla paper was about as realistic as persuading Nigel Farage to retire. What I would like to have seen instead of random targets were some concrete initiatives that work from the ground level upwards to offer long term protection for the industry. I was sceptical that anyone would take these targets seriously and I am yet to see how the industry is faring against them. Frankly we are more likely to find Elvis alive and kicking at MIPIM than we are to get an audit of Construction 2025 from the new government, I suspect.

Also time has moved on, as have the custodians of Construction 2025. The construction tsar present on deck at the time, Paul Morrell, has long since retired from the role and is now apparently concentrating on saving the RICS and other professional bodies from themselves before, he predicts, they could disappear in 2025, with his support of the Edge Commission report published last week.

His successor as tsar, Peter Hansford, is rumoured to be a likely victim of government cutbacks in November when his tenure is up for review, so I am not sure of his ongoing role in championing Construction 2025. Even if these objectives and targets were seen as realistic in 2013, I am not sure they are supported by the current new administration.

Will any or all of these brave aspirations be realised? There are now 10 years left to achieve them rather than 12 and I am not holding my breath. Next time a strategy document appears for me to read, I may wash the car whilst listening to the cricket instead.

Richard Steer is Chairman of Gleeds