A new report by international property and construction consultancy Gleeds in partnership with cross-party think tank Radix, suggests that the UK government’s multi-billion-pound plans for infrastructure investment intended to boost the UK economy post-Covid are being jeopardised by a ‘tickbox culture’ ever present in procurement and management.
Spearheaded by Radix, a centrist think tank for contemporary politics whose fellows include Sir Vince Cable, Stephen Kinnock MP, and Lord Andrew Lansley, Tickbox Infrastructure takes an in-depth look at the impact of the public sector’s reliance on bureaucracy to keep large scale infrastructure schemes on track.
In it, the authors argue that plans to deliver new hospitals, housing and transport links, as set out in the recent spring budget, will all face delays, cost overruns and safety issues unless the role of human judgement is prioritised.
The report was produced by the organisation’s co-founder and journalist David Boyle in collaboration with non-fiction writer Lesley Yarranton. It also benefits from the insightful contributions of a number of key industry figures, including leading academics from York and Liverpool Universities, engineers from overseas transport ministries, and Gleeds chairman Richard Steer.
The publication comes off the back of Gleeds’ own recent market survey, in which contractors cited infrastructure as one of the top five sectors for tender opportunities going into the second half of the year.
Using the government’s introduction to its recent planning white paper as a basis, in which it suggests it aims to “tear down [the planning process] and start again”, the new paper makes a number of recommendations. These include bolstering local government institutions instead of creating huge, centralised power structures; fostering a change of culture in Whitehall to promote faster decision-making; encouraging a shift to Irish-style consultative assemblies; and placing senior engineers into government departments to act as scientific officers.
Commenting on the report, Richard Steer said: “Gleeds is pleased to support Radix in its production of this comprehensive paper. As the UK government seeks to kickstart the economy through significant infrastructure investment, now is the time to rethink and reform a ‘tickbox’ culture which hampers progress and places little value on the expertise and experience of the human beings tasked with delivering complex schemes. If adopted, the solutions outlined within offer a glimpse into how such projects could indeed allow the country to build back better, greener, and faster.”
David Boyle, Radix policy director and author of the report said: “A focus on form filling, targets and KPIs in corporate governance tends to render processes slower, more costly and dehumanised, creating a shadowland where things are not as they seem or as they are measured. This in turn can lead to disasters and injustices such as the Grenfell Tower fire”. He went on to add: “In Tickbox Infrastructure we have been able to highlight failings in the current system and make recommendations around changes which need to be made if efficiencies in terms of of both cost and time are to be fully realised.”