Next year needs to be the year of delivery for the government and the construction sector, according to the speakers at the final Infrastructure Intelligence webinar of 2021, writes Rob O’Connor.
Key industry figures speaking at the final Infrastructure Intelligence webinar of the year on 17 December 2021 all said that 2022 needed to be a year of delivery for the government and the construction and infrastructure sector.
Net zero, levelling-up, social value, procurement reform, resilience, digitalisation, regional devolution and industry collaboration all found their way onto the festive menu as the now traditional Infrastructure Intelligence end of year event looked at what lies ahead in 2022.
Hosted by Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker and organised in association with award-winning communications consultancy BECG, the webinar reflected on the last 12 months and looked ahead to what 2022 might bring for construction and infrastructure.
Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering and the Environmental Industries Commission, outlined the environment, net zero and procurement value as three major factors that will continue to have a major impact next year. “The environment has decisively moved into the mainstream,” said Farrow. “Enough was achieved at COP26 to ensure the focus on the environment isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the second thing around COP26 was that political interest can rise and wane, but when business gets an issue it’s here to stay,” he said.
“Thinking about net zero, were moving into a different phase. The next couple of years are going to be about delivery, and consultancies will have a vital role to play in the built environment. Next year is also going to be important for the procuring for value agenda. Next year we’ll find out if the building blocks put in place over recent years will bear fruit,” said Farrow.
Sue Kershaw, managing director of transport at Costain, said that 2022 needs to be the year of delivery, with Crossrail, HS2, National Highways and the Lower Thames Crossing all flagged up as major areas of progress. Digitalisation, levelling-up and continued industry collaboration also featured high in Kershaw’s thoughts.
“In transportation its deliver deliver deliver!” said Kershaw. “And it’s all based on resilience. We’re already going through Brexit and Covid and we need to continue that resilience and embrace digitalisation. Levelling up is absolutely crucial for the UK – look at it holistically in terms of jobs and social value. We’ve all got to work in collaboration to be able to do that. People are sharing new ideas and the old ideas are melting away. We must continue that. Let’s be more caring about the people and communities we work for,” Kershaw said.
Sheena Sood, partner at Beale & Company, looked at the legal landscape for 2022, with government legislation on building safety, public procurement and climate change all coming down the track.
“Building safety will be high on the agenda,” said Sood. “A new building safety bill will hopefully become law by summer 2022. The government is also looking to simplify the procurement process, and a new procurement review unit will sit within the cabinet office. Climate change will also be key, with more intense scrutiny on the regulators around pollution and emissions,” she said.
Alex Challoner, board director at Cavendish Advocacy, looked at some of the wider political developments which so often affect the industry. “At the beginning of 2021, within the construction and infrastructure sector there was quite a high level of political optimism on the year ahead,” said Challoner. “Fast forward to today and some of the air has come out of the balloon. Scaling back HS2 was very significant and dented some of the ambition around levelling up, so it was a bumpy end to 2021,” he said.
“But we can be optimistic about 2022, with two significant things. There will be the publication of the levelling up white paper around the end of January or early Febuary, and we’re looking forward to the publication of the new planning bill, probably after the local elections in May,” said Challoner.
Speaking about May’s local elections, Challoner said: “I think the local elections will be pretty mixed for both major parties. They’re not going to be a stepping stone for an early general election in 2023, but they’re also not going to be a big gain for Kier Starmer or the Labour Party either. Devolution, regional and national, will continue to be massive – a key part of the political landscape in 2002.”
Neil Macdonald, chief executive of social value specialists Thrive, outlined that social value was vital to delivering the government’s levelling-up agenda. “2021 was the year social value went mainstream,” said Macdonald. “Construction is blazing a trail and it’s firmly on the agenda. There are two reasons why social value has gone mainstream. Firstly, there’s a sustainability tipping point. Social value is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a ‘must have.’ Secondly, it’s being driven largely by public procurement policy, with more emphasis on social value.
“Looking ahead, 2022 is the year where there will be massive scrutiny on delivery. Demands on social value are being spread throughout the industry, from major contractors down into the supply chain. The penny has dropped on the importance of social value in delivering the government’s levelling up agenda,” said Macdonald.
Andy Walker, Infrastructure Intelligence editor, said: “Today’s 18th and final event of 2021 was a very fitting conclusion to our live event series that has seen thousands of industry professionals sign up to attend and hear from leading industry experts on a range of issues. Today’s panel looked ahead to 2022 with optimism and a real sense of purpose, with the industry well-placed to meet a series of challenges head-on for the benefit of society as a whole.
“We ‘re now looking forward to our new 2022 series of events and to looking at many of the key issues facing the construction and infrastructure sector over what should be another interesting 12 months.”
The Infrastructure Intelligence LIVE series of events is organised in association with our Events and Communications Strategic Partner,