ACE chief executive Hannah Vickers was called to provide oral evidence to the BEIS select committee on Industrial Strategy: Sector Deals and Productivity on Tuesday 13 November.
Speaking alongside a panel that included Diana Montgomery (Construction Products Association), Richard Warren (UK Steel), and two senior civil servants from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Fergus Harradence (Deputy Director of Construction and member of the Construction Leadership Council) and Alex Williams (Deputy Director Sector Deals), she discussed a range of issues around the Construction Sector Deal.
The session was a precursor to the committee hearing evidence from the Minister for Business and Industry, Richard Harrington MP.
The session was streamed live over the internet and we have summarised her evidence below. In the hour-long session Vickers was called upon for her views on how the industry has reacted to sector deals, R&D, skills, aggregate demand and offsite construction, and implementing the deal.
Industry perspective on sector deals
Vickers highlighted that consultancy has strong values around quality, which will help with exports. She stressed that the ACE Benchmarking Report shows that productivity in the UK is currently similar to that in Europe. Increased investment in digital design and offsite manufacturing and the sector deal’s supporting role will help improve the UK's export potential, turning our industry into a “product-based” one, rather than a “man-hours” offering. She also highlighted ACE’s Future of Consultancy campaign and how this would help achieve that.
In a later question, Vickers pointed out that the Construction Sector Deal creates a stable policy environment and gives UK firms the confidence for investment. She did however stress that there are concerns if elements are stalled, but that the wholesale commitment from the Sector Deal will lead to fundamental changes to the industry.
Research and Development
In response to a question on what support the government has done to help, Vickers highlighted that R&D tax-credits are creating an incentive for investment and that the Apprenticeship levy helps – ACE Benchmarking data shows UK firms spending double their European counterparts on skills.
Responding specifically to a question on skills, Vickers highlighted that the requirements over the next 10 years will be mixed, especially if one considers the rise of automation. She stressed that our industry will need to diversify to include software specialists and data scientists and that this would attract a different group of people with a different set-skills into the sector.
Defining the problems
Responding to a question on whether the deal suffered from being too “vague”, Hannah highlighted that the sector deal is addressing a productivity issue and while targets are in place, a plan is required to focus delivery. In order for the sector to help, she stressed the importance of trade and business associations in “bridging the gap” between government and SMEs and highlighted the need for changes in the governance of the Construction Leadership Council to include organisations like ACE.
Aggregate demand and new construction techniques
Vickers stressed the importance of the five government departments who have committed to offsite construction and provided an example showcasing how construction could be transformed with a single set of designs for a school used across the UK bringing productivity and cost savings.
Creating a sector deal implementation plan
Vickers highlighted the need for consistency in government approaches and a focus on delivery rather than strategy, arguing that if departments do deliver on their aim for working with offsite construction, this would go further than previous commitments and would be the best way to hold the industry to account.
For more information on the full session, please read Infrastructure Intelligence's article. Following the meeting, ACE wrote to the Committee chair to submit further evidence. You can download a copy of the letter here.