As the public sector-owned procurement specialist launches its Charter for Change, its chief executive tells Daniel Gayne how the next government can do more to promote the construction sector

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Mark Robinson, group chief executive at Scape

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“I think there are gaps,” he says. It is fair to say that Mark Robinson’s gentle assessment of the government’s performance with regard to the construction industry belies his true frustration.  

While the chief executive of Scape concedes that the Conservative Party has “had a lot to deal with in the last five years”, he nonetheless seems unimpressed with the government’s failure to support one of the UK’s biggest industries. 

Except for the Building Safety Act, where he commends the government for tackling a difficult problem “head on”, Robinson struggles for examples of successful policy interventions from this administration. 

Scape, a public sector-owned procurement specialist, has today launched its Charter for Change, which sets out the numerous ways in which the next government could do better, ahead of this year’s general election. The document’s central contention is that the government should elevate construction’s place on the national agenda and further devolve powers to unlock regional growth. 

One of its central recommendations is an endorsement of Building’s own call for the return of a chief construction adviser, which was one of 11 key recommendations made in the Building the Future Commission’s Long-Term Plan for Construction report

“I definitely agree with that,” Robinson tells Building. “I think it is really important that we get some single figure that can represent the construction industry within government, and I don’t think we’ll ever be in a position where construction becomes a government department anymore, because it seems to have fallen down the food chain.”  

The industry is fragmented, that’s the problem. We don’t have a central figure

Mark Robinson, Scape chief executive

He says the current system, in which a busy junior figure within the Department for Business and Trade – currently Alan Mak – co-chairs the CLC alongside a construction business leader – currently Mace CEO Mark Reynolds – is not sufficient. “The CLC are doing a great job and Mark Reynolds co-chairs that, but he runs a multi-billion-pound business… I’m not being funny, but he hasn’t got the time to do what needs to be done in terms of making sure construction is represented in government.”

Instead, construction needs someone at the heart of government who “works independently, who works in partnership with the industry but also in partnership with the government and understands how to get the best out of government for the industry”. 

Robinson suggests that this person would “preferably not be a white, middle-aged man”, but rather “someone who can represent a different type of industry”, which brings him onto the next key focus outlined in Scape’s charter.  

The organisation wants to see a national recruitment campaign to re-brand the industry to younger generation, showcasing it at its most vibrant and diverse.  

“I was an apprentice carpenter and joiner and there was a skills shortage when I started in the 1980s and it has not changed,” says Robinson. “We need to do something different, and I think we need to get across to the people that could potentially choose construction as a career that it is a different world now.”  

Robinson gives the example of the way advertising campaigns for the Army and Navy have in recent years attempted to show those jobs in a different light and asks why the same could not be done for construction. “I love them, they are fantastic, and they have been doing that for a few years, so we are not saying ‘do something new’, we are saying ‘why not do it for construction’?” he says. 

Scape’s Charter for Change


Spearhead a national recruitment campaign to elevate the construction skills agenda
Attract new industry talent and reinforce construction’s key role as a driver of UK economic growth, productivity and investment. Ensure that it is repositioned as a diverse, vibrant industry underpinned by digital technology and innovation.  

Encourage public-private secondments that attract and retain talent
Protect the transference of skills and knowledge through secondments and work placement schemes that support long-term career development and protect the future workforce.

Invest in future-proofed skills to build safe, sustainable assets
Address local construction skills gaps and accelerate the development of smarter, greener technology by incentivising vertical partnerships between industry, schools, higher education, and vocational skills providers.  


Reinstate the chief construction advisor (CCA) role within central government to provide leadership and accountability
Appoint a senior-level figure responsible for overseeing the government’s construction strategy, providing clear direction and a coordinated approach at a national and local level. 

Fix profit margins for contractors to create certainty in the market
Improve profitability by setting higher margins so that clients know exactly how much profit is going to made on projects. This not only delivers best value for the taxpayer, but enables contractors to operate sustainably, contribute to local economic growth and invest in new technology, equipment and resources. 

Invest in a digital estate portfolio to improve asset management
Maximise the efficiency of assets and create a more productive, cost-effective public estate by leveraging digital technologies and empowering local authorities to use data to support long-term asset management strategies. 


Set public sector asset management functions up for success
Improve long-term portfolio management with strategic functions in local government that are well-resourced and have autonomy over budgets. Facilitate a more holistic approach by creating an asset management leadership role within local and combined authorities. 

Mandate the development and commissioning of local social value delivery strategies 
Refresh the Social Value Act to create a more targeted approach that prioritises investment based on need. Consider appointing regional commissioners who are empowered to design and deliver local strategies in line with local priorities. 

Give local authorities more devolution of powers and fair funding 
Ensure local authorities can direct and prioritise funding so that it has the maximum impact, without the need to sell off their assets to alleviate financial pressures. 


Set strict national targets and commercial incentives for reducing construction waste
Maximise resource and cost efficiency by introducing strict targets for waste as part of the Environment Act, with penalties used to finance circular economy startups and drive innovation. Establish the UK equivalent of the EU False Claims Directive to protect against greenwashing and embed standards like PAS 402 to mandate the responsible management of waste and resources.

Update and enforce building regulations to make sustainability non-negotiable 
Implement secondary legislation on the management of embodied carbon in public sector buildings and introduce the proposed Part Z of the Building Regulations to raise standards across all projects. Embed sustainable practice across the wider built environment by ensuring equivalent policy reform for utilities sector procurement and infrastructure projects by mandating the PAS 2080 standard for managing carbon. 

Strengthen funding initiatives to keep decarbonisation on the local agenda 
Build on the success of existing initiatives with further long-term incentives which reward cost-effective, carbon-conscious buildings that save money through lower operational and maintenance costs. 

Building asks him why such an obvious approach has not yet been taken, given the scale of the skills challenge faced by the industry. His answer refers back to the previously discussed lack of co-ordination at the highest levels.

“The industry is fragmented, that’s the problem. We don’t have a central figure or a central function that can do that.”

The Scape charter contains a whole slate of further recommendations, including encouragement of public-private secondments to attract and retain talent, investment in a digital estate portfolio to improve asset management and giving local authorities more devolution and fair funding. But one of the most eye-catching – and a long-standing obsession of Robinson’s – is the suggestion that public sector clients fix profit margins for contractors.  

“I can see the problems across the industry and a lot of them are about people trying to make the margin and trying to make it into a commercial business, when actually they should be focusing on quality – actually making sure that things are built safely – and they can’t because they’re running around and trying to make sure they can get a few pounds in to make a profit,” he says.

“It’s the wrong mentality, it’s the wrong process, and it’s the wrong methodology. Doing this one simple thing would totally transform the industry.” 


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Scape is feeding into Labour’s infrastructure review, launched by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves at last year’s party conference

Robinson has previously suggested, on this very website, that 5% could be an appropriate figure which would allow contractors to make reinvestment plans, recruit better quality people and investment in new technology and equipment. “It doesn’t have to be done nationwide immediately, we could just pilot it in certain areas and see whether it works,” he suggests. 

Whether any of these policy ideas will be taken up by the next administration is another question. The current Conservative government has shown little sign of bumping construction to the top of its priorities, while Labour, in Robinson’s own words, are “holding their cards close to their chest”.

He notes that Keir Starmer has promised to “turbocharge devolution” but laughs: “I don’t really know what that means.”  

Scape is already feeding into Labour’s infrastructure review, and will surely be hoping that the Charter for Change will open doors to policymakers in both major parties as they put together their manifestoes for the upcoming election.  

Returning to his review of the current government’s record, Robinson makes a plea that its successor should simply give construction its dues. “We live in a construction bubble and I understand that they have a hell of a lot of things that they are dealing with – covid, immigration, wars – so I can understand that construction is not necessarily going to be on top of their list,” he says. “But it is still an important part of the country – and it’s a brilliant mechanism to get economic growth.” 

Election focus  

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As thoughts turn towards the next general election, the UK is facing some serious problems.

Low growth, flatlining productivity, question marks over net zero funding and capability, skills shortages and a worsening housing crisis all amount to a daunting in-tray for the next government.

This year’s general election therefore has very high stakes for the built environment and the economy as a whole.

For this reason, Building has launched its most in-depth election coverage yet, helping the industry to understand the issues in play and helping to amplify construction’s voice so that the government hears it loud and clear.