Speaking with one clear voice is the way forward for the industry to help change the world, according to Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). Rob O’Connor reports.
Continued industry collaboration, speaking with one voice to influence government and attracting new people into construction to help change the world, all emerged as major themes in an exclusive Infrastructure Intelligence interview with CLC co-chair Andy Mitchell today (8.9.21).
Our third Infrastructure Intelligence Live In the Spotlight interview of 2021 saw one of the leading figures in the UK construction and infrastructure sector speak freely about the vital role played by the Construction Leadership Council in establishing the importance of the industry in the post-Covid recovery.
The CLC provides cross-sector leadership to the construction industry and is a key and influential voice with government and other key stakeholders and opinion formers. The CLC convened and led the industry’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and has been praised for its work in bringing together the industry, pooling resources and working collaboratively to support industry change.
Under Andy Mitchell’s leadership, the CLC has forged an effective working relationship with government, highlighted by its engagement in developing the Industry Recovery Plan. Mitchell has wide experience in the construction sector. As well as currently being CEO of infrastructure mega-project Tideway, he was previously programme director and board member at Crossrail and has managed a number of high-profile projects both in the United Kingdom and overseas.
Speaking with Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker, Mitchell described the CLC’s initial struggles to engage with an industry previously known for not speaking as one unified force. But the world changed when Covid struck and, said Mitchell, the CLC pulled the industry together in a way never seen before.
“The year before Covid, 2019, it was clear that the CLC was never going to sufficiently represent the whole industry, but then the world changed overnight,” said Mitchell. “The truth is I got on the phone to representatives of the industry to get involved in planning how to help both the industry and the country find a way ahead. That became a taskforce and it was impressive to see people and firms putting ego to one side and working together, a heart-warming response right across the industry,” he said.
That spirt of working together with one voice saw the industry become much more influential in government circles, with industry leaders keeping in daily contact with senior ministers. “Pre-pandemic we would have struggled to get that respect in the industry,” said Mitchell. “Certainly, during the early days of the pandemic there was fear of the unknown, but we had the courage to put out simple and clear guidance for everyone working in the industry and everyone got on board and worked together. We even heard treasury officials say they never thought they’d actually see the day, that the construction industry was working together and speaking with one clear voice,” he said.
“The more we spoke with one voice and that we spoke with the authority of the industry, we found that the government were more willing to listen and engage with us, happily giving us direct daily access to senior ministers. That never used to happen,” Mitchell explained. “The pandemic showed how important the industry is to the economy, and governments worldwide understand the importance of investing in infrastructure. It’s an open door we have, and it’s up to us to put the case to government,” said Mitchell.
Looking further ahead, Mitchell said the roadmap to recovery was still important and outlined two stages of post-Covid recovery. “Firstly, there’s the here and now,” he said. “We have labour and material shortages and the effects of Brexit. We’ve got to deal with those and hear from the industry on what we can do, while still working closely with the government. Secondly, and looking further forward, the construction playbook is an important step. There’s a series of issues surrounding digital, procurement, net zero, innovation, MMC to name just a few – a huge amount to do in the future, but we need to make sure we just don’t focus on the next few months,” said Mitchell.
“We’ve got a massive role in changing the way the built environment is delivered. We’re putting a coherent structure together for government, showing our understanding and intent. It’s a springboard for us to tell our story and let people know how important the industry is in the fight against climate change,” he said.
Mitchell was also clear that the Construction Playbook has an important role to play in changing behaviours in the industry. “The playbook is a bold step by the government, with common sense underlying every page. It’s a start for government departments to understand what we do, not just describing what we build, but understanding the positive effects on society. Understanding that it’s not just about cost, it’s about whole life value and social value too,” he said.
As for monitoring the playbook and encouraging the industry to comply, Mitchell said: “It’s down to the industry to support the government in delivering the whole thing. If you see people not following guidelines, you have to call them out. And guide them throughout the process to help change behaviours. But if we are to achieve the change we need we can’t afford to hang around and we can’t tolerate those who won’t change,” Mitchell said.
Asked how the CLC could help reach a wider audience and attract new talent, Mitchell said: “We’ve got to understand and explain what we’re doing for society. Our message should be ‘If you want to change the world, come and join our industry’. We’ve got to have a coherent story and attract the very best talent from around the world,” he said.
Summing up, Mitchell said: “The CLC’s value has been clear for all to see in the last 18 months, but the industry has to continue working together moving forward. We’re all in this together, but we’re only going to get where need to be if we learn from each other and work together. In five years’ time I’d like to see an industry that’s seen in a very different way. We need to see more young people considering careers to think of the construction industry. It’s an easy thing to do if you’re doing something you believe in,” said Mitchell.
The Infrastructure Intelligence LIVE series of events is organised in association with our Events and Communications Strategic Partner, BECG.