This government’s reforms may seem radical to some but they will make the construction industry as a whole efficient, innovative and competitive
Construction is essential to the successful delivery of public services. From schools, hospitals and prisons to roads, coastal defences and housing, public sector construction underpins the services we all rely on.
The Construction Strategy that I published a year ago set out a clear plan to promote efficiency and reform in government construction, alongside innovation and growth in the construction sector. It set an ambitious target to make public sector construction 15-20% more efficient by 2015. I am proud of the progress made against that strategy in the past year.
The UK construction industry is vibrant, capable and strong. It has risen to the challenge of working with the government to produce better for less and to deliver previously unaffordable projects through improved efficiency. The economic situation this government inherited has not made things easy, yet it is in these times that progressive businesses (and progressive governments) open their mind to new ways of working.
From my perspective, the first priority was to make sure we had a real understanding of where the money was going, where we could do better and by when. We published a forward pipeline of funded construction projects for the first time last July, and have since updated this with greater scope and detail. For the first time, we now know - and the industry knows - where government money will be spent on construction in the years to come.
Since January 2011 every government contract is required to make it an obligation to pass payment down to tier 3 within 30 days, and I want to know if that is not happening
We have benchmarked costs for all of the major spenders and departments have completed their cost reduction plans. What’s more we have done this publicly - transparency sticks, and it is now plain to see where the government needs to do better.
Knowing what a project should cost enables us to develop a range of innovative models for construction procurement, now being trialled in government departments. It means the government can be a more confident and intelligent client, to challenge the industry and ourselves.
In the past, lazy procurement and poor management of frameworks has frustrated many in the industry, particularly SMEs. But the use of PAS91 is now mandatory in central government and we are fast en-route to a situation where no one is asked to qualify on any other basis. Any contractor or consultant who is asked to prequalify on any other basis should let us know via the “Mystery Shopper” service operated by the Cabinet Office, including for opportunities in the wider public sector. New models of procurement will take longer to work through the system, but I firmly believe we are moving to a future where variants of the current trial projects will be the principal way the government procures, tapping into the industry’s capacity to innovate.
The same principles apply to fair payment. Since January 2011 every government contract is required to make it an obligation to pass payment down to tier 3 within 30 days, and I want to know if that is not happening. And we are now rolling out project bank accounts across government projects, to ensure even more secure payment down the supply chain.
The way the public sector operates will change further as we learn from the strategy’s implementation. I see the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in particular as a game-changer for government construction. This digital way of working streamlines the processes of design, procurement, construction and asset management, permanently altering the dynamics of the industry, while leaning government processes. I want the UK to be seen as a world leader in this field, and I am delighted at how well the industry has responded to the government’s strategy for implementation.
Looking ahead to the next year we will continue with our plan and our goal of building better, differently and for less. Expect more trial projects and better procurement. Expect to see the BIM revolution become a reality. Expect to see a greater focus on soft landings and post-occupancy evaluation so that we truly know what works for the taxpayers who will use the structures we are building.
Most importantly, expect that things will never be the same again. Whether it’s procurement, BIM, benchmarking or soft landings, we have embarked on fundamental change. UK public sector construction is set to become a world leader in its adoption of new technology, its transparency and its competiveness.
Francis Maude is minister for the Cabinet Office