Jump-start to recovery

The construction industry is not driving economic resurgence, but lagging behind. The Government Construction Summit looked at ways to help change that

Vince cable puts his views to the audience at the Government Construction Summit.
Vince cable puts his views to the audience at the Government Construction Summit.

Unlike the recovery after the last crash, the construction industry is not driving economic resurgence, but lagging behind. General output from the sector is 11% below 2011 and 13% below its peak in 2009. It is generally accepted that a strategic approach to the sector’s growth is missing, and hopes for Construction 2025 – the industrial strategy for construction – were that it would provide better long term planning to overcome this.

At the Government Construction Summit there was strong emphasis on government and industry collaboration in successfully delivering the strategy. Business secretary Vince Cable outlined four ways in which he felt the government has been adding value to the industry to drive the Construction 2025 agenda – from a commitment to maintain the UK’s global status as BIM leader, to addressing the quarter of a million skills gap by working with the industry to increase the number and quality of apprentice training schemes. The government has also established a new British Business Bank to increase SME access to finance, and produced guidance highlighting a range of finance available for business investment. Additionally, new guidance has been launched for three new models of construction procurement, and a pipeline to 2020 is being developed to provide more certainty and stability for the industry.

Cable’s comments were well received by the audience. However doubts were raised about the viability of producing a long-term pipeline, given the way councils receive short-term bursts of funding from central government, which makes their pipelines inherently unpredictable. The resilience of procurement reform in the face of the next general election was also questioned. The business secretary said work was under way to get cross-political buy-in for procurement reform, so he does not expect any disruptions to programme. To overcome the pipeline issue, he commented that the construction industry needs to transcend its silos to become more interdisciplinary, which would enable it to identify the bottlenecks that infrastructure planning is creating. There was much discussion around skills and very little around design – something I would hope we can rectify over the coming year.

Emilia Plotka is policy officer (external affairs) at the RIBA