In my view, it takes a crisis to muster engagement, and a sufficiently influential leadership group to champion change. Have we arrived at the crisis, the moment for change? If so, how can we nurture a convincing take-up?
Let’s take a look at an emerging multi-faceted crisis which could be our catalyst for change. Much has been written about the ageing profile of the construction industry—more people are leaving than joining. There’s uncertainty around the future of migrant labour, as well as ongoing economic uncertainty, both injecting risk in project development and delivery.
The crisis continues with the need for both new social and economic infrastructure: housing, schools, prisons, hospitals, roads etc. amounting to a c.£600bn public sector pipeline over the next decade. But we face constraints in the labour market and in materials availability, and these are key drivers for construction project cost inflation, leading to cost spikes that could render project business cases unaffordable. A slow-down in construction is a slow-down in UK GDP, so we need a thriving construction industry more than ever. Could this be the emerging crisis we need for industry transformation?
And what about the influential leadership groups? The government is the largest client for infrastructure projects and key central government estate clients have stepped up to change how we approach construction. The Infrastructure Projects Authority, the government’s centre of expertise for infrastructure and major projects, is taking a lead with its Transforming Infrastructure Programme (TIP) which is aligned with the Department of Transport’s Transforming Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy (TIES).
Both initiatives are examples of clients driving change, through new models of procurement (the ICE Project 13 approach for instance) and the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)—factory component and modular design and manufacture. These approaches address not only delivery but look ahead to the operational and social benefits of the completed asset. They also promote a more collaborative design/construction process. Project 13, for example, requires delivery constructs that create a mixed team with a joint focus on outcomes, rather than the typical individually contracted outputs that can so easily threaten the delivery of value.
The Department for Education has long been a client advocate for value. Engagement with the MMC concept led to groundbreaking modular frameworks, followed by component school standardisation that increases the opportunities for factory manufacture of a key sector of UK social infrastructure requirements.
Other central government clients such as the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health have taken up the MMC challenge with standardised approaches to design that support the delivery of value-added assets. Although the full business case for MMC is yet to be made, the TIP and TIES initiatives and the cost of lost productivity in construction when compared with other industrial sectors are convincing.
The Construction Leadership Council is also championing the MMC agenda, with a focus on ‘procuring for value’, recommending improvements in productivity and competitiveness through digital strategies, increased MMC and smart technologies that enhance whole-life performance.
Logic suggests that repeatability, standardisation and an ability to widen the bounds of skills proficiency and contractor market engagement will all have positive effects on improved delivery of our key infrastructure.
In summary we must urgently move away from traditional norms, otherwise there’s a real risk of non-delivery of our identified national project pipeline. We have a strong central government client commitment to change the way we deliver projects, and I believe the supply chain is ready and willing to engage. The critical point in ensuring that these ‘planets’ align is procurement. The right procurement approach is vital, to ensure that potential value becomes delivered value.
Faithful+Gould is a multi-disciplinary consultancy with in-depth experience of facilitating innovative and cost-effective approaches to asset delivery and operation. Working across many sectors, including transportation, energy and asset infrastructure, we support the client journey in the safe adoption of new initiatives and in delivering assets that remain an asset—and avoid becoming liabilities!