Owen Jenkins, Director, CIRIA provides an overview and some key learnings from CIRIA's member only event - 2025: Driving the Vision.
There have been many reports written about the construction industry over the years. The Latham and Egan’s “Rethinking” agenda provided the initial stimulus for many of the changes that have occurred, but the overall impression is that while significant improvements have been made, achieving the full potential improvement is proving elusive.
More recently, Construction 2025 provided some challenging improvement targets and the Government and Industry have put in place a number of initiatives to accelerate the rate of performance improvement and to remove some of the barriers to achieving them. The Construction Leadership Council is playing a key role in this.
Attendees at CIRIA’s recent Member event 2025 – Driving the vision heard presentations from the Government Cabinet Office, BIS, Crossrail, Costain, UKGBC, and the Construction Leadership Council on the challenges facing the industry and, importantly, what was being done about them.
David Hancock described some of the measures that Government was taking to build its own capability and expertise, particularly in project and programme management. This responded to industry calls for Government to be a better client. Measures had also been taken through the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to provide greater information to the industry on future workloads encouraging investment in skills and capability.
Robin Webb’s focus was on productivity. With some exceptions, productivity in construction had flat lined for a generation. He explained that the new Government’s priority had shifted from one of managing a fiscal crisis and achieving growth and jobs to one focussing on productivity. While youth unemployment remained high, generally across construction the concern was as much about lack of skills as opposed to employment opportunities.
Martin Buck spoke about the importance of having industry voices close to Government and from an infrastructure perspective, the importance of close working between the Construction Leadership Council and the Infrastructure Client Group. Large schemes like Crossrail achieve many steps forward and also highlight areas where further progress is needed. The recently launched Crossrail Learning Legacy is an example of this.
Adam Golden stressed the importance of a focus on people in striving for an innovation culture. The choice of contract form was an influence on this, but so was the actual behaviour of the individuals and their parent organisations, particularly in the case of JVs and frameworks
Mark Edwards welcomed the opportunity to link environment, economic and social issues – a topic which he believed was not sufficiently discussed nor understood, although there was growing appreciation of their interdependence. Environmental savings could increasingly be expressed in financial terms such as the case in carbon and energy savings. Environmental improvements could be accelerated by fiscal measures such as the landfill tax escalator, and new ways of thinking about resource use – whether materials or the built environment itself can be encouraged through concepts such as the circular economy. Finally, by developing expertise in this area, UK was in a strong position to export this capability.
Closing the meeting, Simon Rawlinson described the reformed Construction Leadership Council and its role in leading, focussing, directing and maintaining the momentum of initiatives that will lead to the performance and capability requirements that the industry knows it’s had to deliver for some time. This will include greater communication both with Government and with the industry.
The ills of the industry are well rehearsed. Very well rehearsed. Increasingly, though, the focus is becoming more positive, emphasising the opportunities and potential of the industry and demonstrating that with the right conditions and right people the industry is capable of significant improvement.
CIRIA will continue, through its range of activities to highlight such improvements and to help organisations diffuse and replicate these achievements within their own organisations and projects. To inform these activities, CIRIA’s Process and Technology panel will shortly be circulating a questionnaire seeking Members views.