The group business development director at NG Bailey on 2014, the economic recovery, and government policy

How sustainable do you believe the economic recovery to be, and why?

I think there are clear signs that a recovery is underway. We’re cautiously optimistic that the recovery is sustainable, and most of the economic signals do support that, but a general election is less than 18 months away and that is bound to create a degree of uncertainty across the private and public sectors.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for your business next year? Where is growth going to come from?

Over the past couple of years we have diversified into infrastructure and services – IT and facilities management – and in sectors such as water, rail and energy. We are seeing strong growth in all those areas, and I’m confident that will continue next year.

There is also a big opportunity for us through our technical design expertise, including our BIM capability, and in exploiting off-site manufacturing techniques to reduce both build time and costs. 

What do you think the greatest danger to your business will be in 2014?

We need to ensure we continue to attract and retain skilled people, across the industry. We must continue to bring talented apprentices and graduates into construction and engineering, and then keep them motivated and rewarded.

Even during the worst periods of the recession, we continued to invest £3m a year in the training and development of our people, because we recognised the long-term danger of not doing that.

What do you think the construction industry could do to help itself in 2014?

I think the industry has been badly hit by a focus on driving down bid prices to unsustainable levels. Companies have chased work based on smaller and smaller margins. The inevitable consequence has been that many of them have gone to the wall, and that has a knock-on effect on the rest of the supply chain.

I hope that in 2014 we start to see greater collaboration between main contractors and key players in the supply chain, creating strategic and sustainable partnerships. Everyone I meet agrees it’s the best way forward for our industry, but too few are putting it into practice.

What single realistic policy change from the government would make the biggest difference to your business next year?

I would like to see the government actually start spending on the key infrastructure projects that Britain badly needs, such as IEP. We all know we lag behind many of the world’s major economies when it comes to infrastructure investment.

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement was full of commitments on investment, but very few of those infrastructure schemes are ready to start. We need to move from promises to positive action.

Sean Wickens is group business development director at NG Bailey