s I write this, the media are discussing tomorrow’s arrival of the first batch of coronavirus vaccines. Welcoming them to our shores does not mark the end of the crisis by any means, but it does feel like an opportune moment to reflect on what has been – by any stretch of the imagination – an extremely difficult, busy and, at times, sad nine months.
As individuals we’ve become somewhat numb to the numbers, but many have lost family members, friends and neighbours to the virus. The truth is more will as the vaccination programme is rolled out next year. While we have successfully shut down, then partially reopened, our economy in a bid to slow the march of the disease, what have been the unfortunate side-effects of this decision? Even within our industry – which is better insulated than many others – we have already had to take difficult decisions. It is all too easy to forget the human cost to this crisis.
However, out of adversity comes opportunity and our industry has largely responded well. In spring and summer, we successfully transitioned to working from home and many shared their expertise to support the building of a network of NHS Nightingale hospitals across the UK in record time. We also laid the groundwork to play a huge role in our national recovery in 2021.
Through forums like the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), we started to shape concepts that would later become part of the foundation for recovery. Ideas around “building back better” have since been encapsulated in the Prime Minister’s Build, Build, Build speech, his 10 Point Plan for Net Zero, as well as the Chancellor’s Infrastructure Strategy and Project Speed.
These major speeches and announcements – many of which have successfully cut through to the general public – demonstrate a strong appetite for a construction-led recovery from Government.
Out of adversity comes opportunity and our industry has largely responded well... Hannah Vickers
The truth is there are a number of obstacles still in our way. We need more progress and transparency on the national pipeline of projects. We need local authorities, LEPs and devolved bodies to be empowered, confident and financially supported to make major investment decisions. We need progress on the levelling-up agenda – an area where the political rhetoric sometimes runs ahead of the reality on the ground. We need expectations on Net Zero to be better articulated.
However, Government support for practical programmes such as the ACE spearheaded Construction Talent Retention Scheme, does demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of the issues we face. This productive working relationship will continue to bear fruit for our members in 2021.
As the vaccination programme rolls out in the first quarter, political momentum will naturally turn to encouraging recovery. We all want to “build back better” but the question now has to be, how can we make this happen?
This blog originally appeared as Hannah's regular column in Infrastructure Intelligence.