BESA chief executive David Frise
The Association believes the strategy drawn up by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) could pave the way for a more productive and profitable sector that is better able to meet the Prime Minister’s ambition for the country to ‘build back better’.
BESA has joined one of the key working groups charged with developing the CLC strategy and believes there must be an urgent focus on protecting jobs and improving business confidence.
“The government has some huge plans for infrastructure work and for building new schools and hospitals,” said chief executive David Frise. “However, the main priorities for our members right now are: pipeline, productivity and cash.
“This is a very uncertain time so they are, rightly, nervous and that makes it hard for them to make investment decisions that will be critical to delivering the recovery strategy. They will need to see evidence that the pipeline of work is flowing.”
A representative from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) agreed saying that construction would play a crucial part in the country’s economic recovery, but that the industry’s capacity “is a concern”.
He told a webinar hosted by BESA that more than 500,000 people left the sector during the last recession, and stressed the importance of retaining talent, re-skilling and re-deploying skilled people to stop it happening again.
“We have seen the Prime Minister’s announcement reflecting the importance of protecting skills and retaining jobs in the sector as part of the recovery plan,” the official said.
The BEIS spokesman also noted the need for “massive culture change”.
“The industry must recognise that post-Covid, we will not be going to back to where we were before. We must have better partnerships and improved efficiency to deliver better value to clients…we must avoid a race to the bottom [on quality and price].”
Mr Frise said the two-year CLC roadmap should take its inspiration from the best examples seen during the Covid-19 crisis including instances of better collaboration between supply chains.
“90% of people spend 90% of their time in buildings…so if we succeed there will be huge societal benefits,” he added.
The CLC envisages a three-month ‘restart’ phase where output grows; employment is maximised and disruption to projects is minimised by the avoidance of damaging disputes.
This would lead onto a ‘reset’ period during the following 10 months where demand is driven; there is a fresh approach to compensate for loss of productivity created by the new safe working practices; and supply chains are strengthened.
The strategy culminates with a 12-month ‘reinvent’ period when the industry is transformed by the greater adoption of digital and off-site manufacturing techniques; delivering better value and working in long-term collaborative teams.
Hannah Vickers, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), told the BESA webinar that the next three months would be “all about the pipeline and stimulating demand” for the industry’s services. She said the government must commit to “firing up public sector projects”.
She is chairing the strategy’s ‘local, social and commercial construction’ group, which includes BESA, and believes there is huge potential in working closely with local authorities to help them speed up local regeneration and low carbon refurbishment plans.
“We must focus on delivering better value, which means spending more time on the design before going to site,” said Ms Vickers. “Part of the recovery plan will involve looking at design metrics to inform spending decisions that lead to a better quality product.
“If we expect the government to support the sector, we must demonstrate that we are reinventing ourselves.”