Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Government Construction Strategy - My Response

The Cabinet Office issued its Construction Strategy yesterday and I have spent the past 24 hours looking through it trying to understand what it means for the industry.
My overriding thoughts are that this is a really welcome strategy, which is long overdue. This government has clearly given consideration as to how it should spend its capital wisely and has pulled together a report which has included collaboration across a number of high level offices within Whitehall, the efficiency and reform group of the Cabinet Office construction sector unit of BIS, as well as Infrastructure UK.

In the past we have suffered from reports which have set out a vision rather than a strategy and plan. This document is different and has some clear, measurable objectives which enable us to move forward as an industry.
Clearly the issuing of the document is only step one and the critical issue now is whether it is adopted by all government departments and becomes central to what the government does.
The focus of the document seems to be very much on internal government procedures and how the government will procure and manage work, and less so on how the construction industry should respond. I believe it is here that the construction industry comes in, and should be capitalising on statements the government has made about benchmarking energy performance and cost, as well as the delivery of all buildings using BIM (Building Information Modelling).

Essentially, the government is setting out its expectations as a client challenging the construction industry, in the same manner as a potential preferred bidder must do, to set out its best response solution.

Traditionally the industry has been very conservative and has not progressed at a pace. Without a doubt, the expectations from government will be high and their benchmarks will be challenging. The industry therefore will have to invest in research, development and innovation. To achieve the levels of capital and revenue cost expected, the industry will have to think completely differently. I anticipate that a kick back from these proposals and only those who are willing to open their mind and think differently will flourish.

Throughout the document there are some very interesting facts and the one that struck me was that there are 300,000 businesses within the construction industry, of which 99.7% are SMEs with over 2 million workers, so clearly the fragmented nature of the industry will cause a problem in generating a holistic response.
The government is intending to establish a board which will be the centre point of this strategy and will communicate with all government departments. This is a much needed initiative in an industry that is so fragmented and does not yet speak with a single voice, so hopefully this will give clarity and direction to the industry.
It is interesting to see that the government has used the terms ‘standardised’ and ‘mass customised product’ in the report. Many organisations and individuals in the industry have fought against such an approach but the government’s advocacy of it is a clear indication of their intention to encourage the construction industry to move forward in this vein.

Another interesting addition is the fact that there is now a linkage between those who design and construct a facility and those who subsequently occupy and manage. Usually this linkage has not existed in any particular way and hopefully with the adoption of BIM the benefits will easily be demonstrated in the savings to revenue.

Across the action plan there are some very straightforward, yet important aspects which will make a considerable difference to the efficiency of the industry. There is a proposal to look at standardised Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs), such as PAS 91, as well as the potential of standardised procurement and contracts, something not currently prevalent within the industry.
Whilst BSF has been much maligned for its expensive approach, some of the information gained from the initiative was positive and has helped to inform policy. Clearly the idea of another forward plan of capital expenditure is a positive one, and it will allow organisations to invest long term and demonstrate value to client departments.
There also seems to be a willingness to ensure that the correct skills of procurement and management of projects are in place across the public sector, and as long as the individuals with these skills are sourced properly, their presence will ensure continuous learning and realistic expectations.

The idea of having structured cost targets and value criteria is also to be applauded. By collecting data and benchmarking, league tables can be identified and this in turn will help to develop the industry positively. The Movement for Innovation Programme was a good method of demonstrating the best in industry and provided some excellent benchmark data.
As an early adopter of BIM, _space group is pleased to see it mentioned within the strategy. The government clearly recognises the benefit that it will now receive as a client and will legitimise the approach across the construction industry. It is also interesting to see that integrated project insurance has also been considered and will be researched in greater detail in the future.
Overall I think this document clearly sets out what the government will be expecting from the construction industry over the next four years and will encourage a refreshing approach within the industry.
As the government is the single biggest client to the construction industry, spending around £41billion per annum, the industry has no excuse not to respond and achieve the benchmark targets which the government has set out in this report.
I am encouraged to see the report and it gives me hope for a better industry. However I am very realistic about the reticence that there will be across many organisations to adopt some of the proposals made in the report, and that this continues to be a tough time for the construction industry, one that will see many businesses stand or fall based on their decisions over the coming months and years.