he Prime Minister’s “Build, Build, Build” speech has, once again, reaffirmed the view that construction and infrastructure are core to this Government’s vision for economy and post-COVID recovery. There can be no doubt that Boris Johnson recognises the vital role that our industry plays as the catalyst in any recovery.
The truth is, however, that there was little new in the speech. The Prime Minister shared £5bn worth of projects that the Government has decided to bring forward, he announced a new taskforce, the somewhat obviously titled ‘Project Speed’, to find more, and he re-announced pledges on green jobs. While we welcome the ambition and overall theme of his speech, it needs to quickly translate into tangible action.
The fact is that the primary challenge we’re currently facing is less about “build, build, build” and more about “deliver, deliver, deliver” and while the Government may wish to speed up delivery of programmes and projects, in the short-term this simply won’t be possible without business confidence.
It is only by sharing impactful and concrete proposals that the businesses in our sector will gain the assurances to retrain or reskill workforces accordingly.
The Infrastructure Projects Authority’s (IPA) recent procurement pipeline analysis was a positive step in the right direction on this, it now needs monthly updates by Government departments to provide additional clarity. Furthermore, we need to add to recent positive news on planning to ensure that public sector spend that has already been committed to can progress.
In addition to short-term confidence, we will need to cement the changes in the medium to long-term that will help our industry to deliver the reality to back up the Government’s rhetoric. Our role in delivering the NHS Nightingale hospitals has proved that we do have the skills, agility and imagination to deliver differently and at speed. Furthermore, we need to build on this and use a mix of offsite manufacturing, modular, AI and digital tools in sectors like housing, education or healthcare to speed up delivery.
Yet, alongside all of this we also need to be mindful of quality and ensure that we do truly ‘build back better’. Here the work that the Construction Innovation Hub is spearheading on procurement is vital. Not only will this streamline processes, but it will eventually allow the Government to lock-in and standardise ambitions on a range of currently difficult to measure metrics such as society’s Net Zero ambitions, support for SMEs or job creation.
All of this will ensure increasingly complex projects and programmes deliver for an increasingly demanding public and Government. Most importantly, it will support informed decision-making at speed.
The work ACE is currently undertaking with the CLC to shape the industry recovery brings many of these issues to the fore. Whilst we all share an ambition to do things better and faster, we need to ensure the environment, tools and processes are in place for us to do so.
Hannah Vickers is chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).