Doing things differently, social and community values, highlighting and measuring best value and achieving net zero all emerged as key talking points at the latest Infrastructure Intelligence Road to Recovery webinar on Friday 10 July.
Hosted by Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker, "Delivering the public sector pipeline after Covid" saw a typically strong panel of Cathy Travers, managing director UK & Europe at Mott MacDonald; Anita Kasseean, legal director at Blake Morgan; Shehroze Junejo, head of major infrastructure tracking at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and Pagabo executive chairman Gerard Toplass discuss the prospects for the public sector construction and infrastructure pipeline after Covid.
Infrastructure investment is certain to play a key role in getting the UK economy back on track as the country recovers from the Covid-19 crisis. Boris Johnson's “build, build, build” speech signalled the government’s intent and it’s clear that his administration sees infrastructure spending as a key driver of any post-Covid economic recovery. The webinar, organised in association with Barton Willmore, addressed many of the key issues around the public sector pipeline.
Cathy Travers wasted no time in pointing out that the pandemic has given the industry a major opportunity to actually “do things differently” rather than “just doing different things” - with a clear focus on the need to concentrate on social and community values, highlighting best value rather than lowest price and achieving net zero to be right at the heart of future industry and government policy.
Outlining how the pandemic has both exposed and accelerated the already widening gaps in society, she said: “We know we have a long road to recovery, so decisions on what and how we invest is vital for the future. Investment should be focussed on a coherent approach to communities and social value.” And, rather than the much heralded ‘build, build, build’ mantra of the PM, Travers emphasised the need to “plan, plan plan” and “design, design, design”, saying that projects should be “shovel worthy, not just shovel ready”.
“Future pipelines should give us a massive opportunity to deliver net zero, create jobs and build communities,” said Travers. “And SME’s have a vital role to play both locally and nationally in a community-focussed recovery,” she said.
Gerard Toplass emphasised that Pagabo were very keen to ensure that social value was embedded into procurement and that Covid had brought forward a focus on how and why the industry - and government - works together.
“The levelling up agenda is vital,” said Toplass. “The build, build, build rhetoric is there, but it’s action we need. Politics should go out of the window and investment must be continued. We should not fall back to austerity again. The government will be remembered for how it handled the recovery, and the industry should help ensure that levelling up should benefit the whole of society,” he said.
Job creation, skills training and supporting FE education were all important for future progess, according to Toplass, who also pointed out the need to remove any roadblocks from speedy, competitive and efficient procurement to help the industry deliver the community-focussed projects that society needs. An emphasis on highlighting the need for best value rather than just lowest price option was also high on Toplass’ agenda, as he outlined that social value standards needed to be both embedded within the industry and explained to clients in equal measure.
Shehroze Junejo explained that infrastructure being a top priority for the government was “a great opportunity for the industry to help rebuild society and the country, while also building capacity and resilience across the sector”. Looking at the procurement pipeline and asking how contracts could be awarded as quickly as possible but still be competitive, Junejo also stressed that procurement for growth should look to the full-life of a project and should not be rushed for any short-term quick fix. “We can’t let speed be the main driver of what we do,” he said. “We must build for the long-term, do the right thing, and choose projects carefully.”
Legal specialist Anita Kasseean outlined that environmental impacts, planning and delivery issues were all important areas for consideration in a post-Covid landscape, but stressed the need for collaboration and flexibility as being key to any future recovery – with the industry and its clients and partners already working together to find a way forward. She also stressed the importance of environmental and climate change considerations on the deliverability of projects, saying that these would be crucial going forward.
Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker said: “This was another excellent webinar with all our panellists highlighting some of the key issues around public sector projects. A key takeaway for me was the need for the whole industry to demonstrate the lasting value of what it does and to work with the government to ensure that a real commitment to social value in particular was a key part of all pipeline projects going forward.”
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