Public spending is on the increase – which means construction and government need each other more than ever before. Here’s how the two of them are coming to a mutual understanding …

A massive 40% of all construction work is for the public sector, which makes government the industry’s largest single client. Moreover, it’s a figure that is set to rise over the next few years as government spending on public works increases.

But some of the government’s spending plans have not come on stream as quickly as initially expected.

At the Labour party conference in September, construction bodies warned the government that it was failing to deliver on its infrastructure spending pledges. Trevor Walker, former chairman of the Construction Confederation, said the government’s 10-year transport plan was in “disarray” and emphasised only a consistent workflow would deliver best value for the government.

Walker also called on government to use its “procurement muscle” to improve standards in the industry by only selecting suppliers that have improved health and safety, train workers and offer better value rather than lowest cost.

We really need government to be a best-practice client – to lead a cultural change

Trevor Walker, former CC chairman

As he put it, “We really need government to be a best-practice client – to implement and to lead others through a cultural change; to adopt what we all know to be best practice.”

Although delays may have affected some public spending plans, government has shown a commitment to construction on another front – training. In November 2003 it announced an extra £46m to boost skill levels.

This is where government has a key second role – that of shaping policy and supporting training in construction. In particular it must work with Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) to fill skill gaps and boost productivity in key economic areas. ConstructionSkills became a fully licensed SSC in 2003 and has so far received £4.5m in funding from government through the Sector Skills Development Agency. Below is a summary of what government now needs to do to support the industry.

A strong and vibrant industry, producing excellent projects, demands a reliable supply of skilled workers. ConstructionSkills is already having an impact. general levels of interest in careers in construction is on the rise.
Nigel Griffiths, construction minister

Sector Skills Agreements are a key component of the move towards demand-led, employer-driven action on skills. They will help in galvanising a shared sense of purpose across industry in meeting skill needs.
Ivan Lewis, minister for skills and vocational education


  • ConstructionSkills should be included as a partner in the Business Support initiative.

  • A national Lifelong Learning Network should be created.

  • The DTI should endorse and participate in the proposed Skills and Productivity Observatory to support research into industry capacity and future skills requirement.

  • Government funding for on-site assessment and training should be made available across the UK.

  • Government funded construction contracts should require qualified workforces to support best value procurement.

  • Funding for Education Business Partnerships should be extended for Construction Curriculum activities in all schools.

  • Government funding for work experience should be applied to the second year of full-time FE construction courses.

  • Funding for adults should be offered at the same rate as for 16-18 year-olds to encourage diversity and apprenticeships.

  • Government funding should be included for local employment and training on construction projects to develop sustainable communities.