Will the #FarmerReview’s bitter pill be swallowed?

modernise-or-die

Mark Farmer has added another publication to the bookshelf of self-improvement guides for construction.  Modernise or Die is the headline grabbing title for the output commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) (who are they, I hear you cry!) at the request of Brandon Lewis and Nick Boles (the ministers for Housing & Planning & Skills respectively at that time) to undertake a review of the UK’s construction labour model.

I wholeheartedly agree with the assertion that a burning platform needs to be created to highlight the challenges the industry faces, not least the impending tsunami of the skill gap.  Farmer is right that this problem needs to be addressed and immediately.  Farmer adopts a medical process analogy to articulate the well-known symptoms and provides a candid diagnosis that leads to the prognosis “the industry must modernise or die”.  The question is whether the prescribed treatment plan will result in the transformational change called for and I, for one, agree is urgently needed.  The recommendations clearly identify what should happen, but to continue Farmer’s medical analogy, I fear the patient will not take any notice and the medicine will be left untouched along with a shelf full of other prescriptions.

The symptoms described are not new and not solely the preserve of the UK construction industry; these are global construction problems.  However, the UK has a significant skills challenge with a predicted “20-25% decline in the available labour force within a decade”.  This is a serious issue that does require a coordinated industry approach and state intervention.  Farmer’s ten recommendations articulate what he believes “should happen”, but this to me is where it just becomes another book on the shelf.  I cannot see any compelling evidence to suggest that these actions will be taken; I hope I’m wrong, but for me, it will continue to be business as usual.

I believe there is a lack of transparency over the institutionalised inefficiency that pervades the industry. Whilst most may recognise the symptoms, the systems we operate fail to provide a basis to improve.  Hence, we need to change the system and Farmer’s third recommendation rightly urges “the need to leverage the CLC’s business models to improve relationships and promote R&D”; (but we’ve heard this before many times).  What are these business models?  How do they align with the New Methods of Construction Procurement developed as a result of the Government Construction Strategies (Cabinet Office 2011 and Cabinet Office & IPA 2015)?  Evidence from the trial projects demonstrates what can happen and create some of the change called for here.

Researchers have questioned the effectiveness of this type of reform discourse, arguing that it is not enough just to understand the problem, “the socio-cultural structures and forces that influence behaviour and shape our views” need to be debated in order that we can “better engage with, and understand, the sources influencing the issue of policy formulation and diffusion” (Smiley, et al., 2014).  I’d suggest Supply Chain Analysis into the Construction Industry – A Report for the Construction Industrial Strategy provides a good starting point.  Whilst Farmer refers to Construction 2025 and the government’s “commitment to having a strong industrial strategy”, the point is we need to influence policy more effectively as an industry and for me, Farmer saying that government “should recognise the value of the construction sector” is akin to telling a smoker to stop smoking.  I question whether we as an industry understand how it should influence the ‘new’ industrial strategy. I’m waiting for the CLC to demonstrate the leadership the industry needs, but unfortunately, I cannot see our fragmented structure becoming a coherent voice anytime soon.  Chief Construction Adviser anyone?

Farmer suggests that “this is not just another ‘’must do better’ school report”, however, I reluctantly disagree; whilst the prognosis is clear, I fear the prescribed medicine is unlikely to be taken and the patient is unlikely to improve.

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Government Construction Strategy 2016-20

GCS2011 v 2016

The Government Construction Strategy (GCS16-20) for the current parliament has been published and there is much to be pleased about.

Firstly, GCS16-20 builds on the work undertaken in the previous parliament and in so doing ensures there is continuity in the strategy.  The distinction with previous government reports is important; this is a strategic document setting out the Government’s aims as the largest client to the construction industry.  Moreover, it explicitly states that it will “build on the progress made under GCS2011-15 and Construction 2025.”

Secondly, the tone of strategy is pragmatic, recognising that this is work in progress and there is still much to be done.  The Government acknowledge that the principle aim is to “improve government’s capacity and capability as a client” and hence, the first of four strategic priorities is Client Capability.

Thirdly, there is an absence of headline-grabbing targets. No longer is there an arbitrary 20% cost reduction target, instead there is a specific figure to be achieved. The strategy states that, by implementing the action plan to achieve the strategic priorities, “increased productivity will facilitate forecast efficiency savings of £1.7 billion over the course of this Parliament”.  However, it does also state that these forecasts “cannot be achieved without a highly-skilled, high-performing industry”.

Whilst there has been some consternation about the loss of the Chief Construction Adviser (CCA) role, the strategy does state how this strategy will be coordinated.   Firstly, there is the GCB, the Government Construction Board which will oversee the implementation of the GCS16-20 alongside the Infrastructure Projects Authority (IPA). “A newly established Strategic Delivery Group (SDG) will coordinate the activity of the Working Groups, and report progress to the GCB.”  And then the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) will also provide coordinated leadership to government.  So we have the GCB, IPA, SDG and the CLC … I couldn’t possibly comment on whether I’m pleased about this and whether we need a CCA! 

Finally, this strategy is more concise and focused than the previous one.  As alluded to, there are just four strategic priorities:

  1. Client Capability
  2. Digital and Data Capability
  3. Skills and the Supply Chain
  4. Whole-Life Approaches

Under these headings, working groups will continue their work on areas such as:

  • Integrating the principles of Soft Landings
  • New Models of Construction Procurement
  • Realise the full benefits of BIM Level 2 and the move towards Level 3
    [Note the funding of £15 million announced in the Budget (See Benedict Wallbank’s post)]
  • Continued publication of the Government Construction Pipeline biannually
  • A focus on Industry Skills
  • Meeting sustainability objectives
  • And finally, but most importantly, recognition for the Government to lead by example in fair payment practices

Whereas the first Government Construction Strategy was published in times of austerity, as reflected by the front cover design, it could be assumed that, given the colourful cover of this latest strategy, the outlook for construction and its relationship with government looks much brighter.

Construction Matters …

… does it?

After recent speculation, it was officially announced that the position of Chief Construction Adviser would expire in November. Peter Hansford officially steps down on 30th November and there will be no replacement; but does this matter?

Without being privy to discussions that came to this conclusion, I can only speculate as to the reasons why the government believe this is the right thing to do.  However, we can look at the rationale behind the decision to create the position in the first place.  And when we do, the question is …what has changed?  Moreover, it is evident from the Government’s own press release, there is confusion over what has happened in the past.

The need for a Chief Construction Adviser

It was seven years ago when Construction Matters was published by a cross-party committee, (chaired by Conservative MP Peter Luff), and recommendeConstruction Mattersd the position of Chief Construction Officer.  Paul Morrell was subsequently appointed in November 2009 as Chief Construction Adviser, initially on a two-year term.  The principal reason for the role was stated “To overcome the problem of the fragmentation of construction policy and procurement across government” and the position would have “operational involvement in policy and regulatory matters across departments.”  I would concur with Graham Watts’ assessment in the CIC press release where he indicates that he doesn’t see “any circumstances that have changed to negate the need for the role”.

Confused? Government Construction Strategy & Construction 2025

In the announcement about the new Construction Leadership Council, note 4 incorrectly states that the “Government Construction Strategy was developed with the launch of the Construction 2025 strategy”.  The Government Construction Strategy and Construction 2025 are two separate documents.  One focused on government, the other a vision for the wider construction industry.  The announcement may be right that some duplication may have resulted, but this is more likely to be due to the creation of the Leadership Council and having a different focus than the one originally set for the adviser.  The Government Construction Strategy provided a clear direction that I have argued has delivered what the Government required.

What next?

I would argue that the Government needs a Chief Construction Adviser with an updated Government Construction Strategy for the current parliament (the original strategy related to the last parliament).  As Government is collectively the largest client to the construction industry, it is imperative that it shows appropriate client leadership and supports in the development of this important industry.  The Government has long recognised this and that change is needed in the industry, but change requires leadership and the Chief Construction Adviser was that leader.

Note: This post is a slightly amended version of the the one first published on my Linkedin Pulse

Has the Government Construction Strategy Delivered?

Gallery

This gallery contains 4 photos.

“Has the Government Construction Strategy Delivered?” was the question  addressed in my talk to the monthly meeting of the London Construction Excellence Club in May 2015. The Government Construction Strategy (GCS) was published in May 2011 setting objectives to be … Continue reading

Government Construction Strategy

What’s happened to the Government Construction Strategy?060111_1314_GovernmentC1.png

Firstly, I have to say I like the Government Construction Strategy (The Strategy). It was concise in articulating

  • the need for change,
  • proposing what needs to be done and
  • formulating an implementation plan.

In doing so, The Strategy was practicing what it preached by demonstrating clear leadership, one of its important tenets. Separate task groups implemented the plan and after 12 months, there was an update report. At the same time, Building held the first of what has become an annual Construction Summit, with the principal aim of coordinating the key messages and progress of the Strategy.

As I’ve blogged on the Strategy (previous posts link) and I wanted to review progress; not least because as we enter 2015, I was reminded that the principal objective of The Strategy was to reduce costs by up to 20% by the end of this Parliament (i.e. May 2015).

So what’s happened with the implementation of the Strategy?

In short, a lot has happened. Each task group has delivered outputs, with reports available on the Government website. The BIM Task Group has been the most visible with their own micro-site and twitter feed and has been instrumental in setting standards and coordinating the development of industry capability. Progress with procurement has seen the production of guidance on new procurement models and numerous trial projects take place. Moreover, work of the procurement task group has merged with Infrastructure UK who have *quietly* produced some outstanding documents on improving delivery in relation to the Project Initiation Routemap. And there is plenty more positive progress on, amongst other things, soft landings, developing client capability.

However, it’s unclear to me how the Government has done in relation to its original target for cost (and carbon) reduction. The 12 month update indicates savings, but there is, to my knowledge, no subsequent publication that clearly articulates progress. Don’t we need to understand how the Government has actually performed against the key objectives?

I have previously challenged whether The Strategy would result in any lasting change? On this note, in the interview with Stef Stefanou (£ Building) he lamented that despite being an industrial reformer, he no longer believes the industry will ever change. It’s my concern, that whilst there are persuasive arguments for change, we are a long way from reaching the tipping point of a more productive way of delivery.

The Strategy is a good document, a lot of good work that has taken place, however the question has be “how much influence has it really had?”

Do we need another Contract Form?

As one lawyer said “if two lawyers are in the same room, you’re unlikely to get agreement”; so what happens when you have a room full of lawyer-folk!

NBS_UCCC

Let’s cut to chase, my conclusion from the NBS Bond Dickinson briefing “Understanding Construction Collaboration Contracts” is that the lawyers aren’t that impressed with current collaborative forms.

But if collaboration is called for, aren’t collaborative contracts essential?

Ever since Latham constructed the team and Egan rethought construction, built environment professionals have been urged to find a different way of working.  If clients are to have successful projects, improvement must be through COLLABORATION!  Ad infinitum the message is that adversarial ways don’t cut the mustard anymore; the latest including the Government’s new procurement routes with collaboration at the heart; and if BIM is to achieve it’s full potential, “the only way is collaborate“.

I attended the NBS Bond Dickinson briefing Understanding Construction Collaboration Contracts because I recognise that if construction needs to collaborate, then collaborative forms of contract must be adopted. [Review my storify]

The briefing reviewed 4 contracts; three I knew about and one whose arrival had recently passed me by!  The NEC3 is 20 years old; it’s been around a while and is being used.  The PPC2000 has it’s plaudits and is shown in a favourable light by the Government Trial Projects.  The JCT adopted the Be Collaborative form as its own and hence we have the JCT Constructing Excellence form.  The new kid on the block is the CPC2013 (Complex Project Contract) authored by the CIOB.

NBS_UCCCx4The audience were treated to candid and informative series of presentations from principally lawyer-folk. My impression is that the lawyers aren’t that impressed with these collaborative forms. From their legal perspective, they didn’t appear to recognise the management rationale and instead focused on the fact that if the projects go wrong, the contracts will not stand up in Law; afterall what is collaboration in the eyes of the court! Certainly for anyone who attended the event, if they recommend a collaborative form potentially they could be held negligent given that barristers advised to stay well clear of one of the forms!

So I see we have a bit of stand-off.  We need collaborative forms, but what client advisors are/will be advising clients to use the current bunch?  In my opinion this is a pressing issue, and one that will affect the adoption of the new procurement routes and the implementation of BIM …

…. or shall we just leave the lawyers to have a reasonable disagreement!

This is a link to my Storify of the event.

Review of Government Construction Summit

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Government Construction Summit

The summit for 2013 is over and the big news is we have:

  • a new strategy and
  • a new Leadership group

Part of my benefit of attending such events is that I’m able to keep up-to-date for my students, so I’m constantly thinking “what will I be telling my students”:

The key message I took from the plethora of keynote speeches was that there were no new statements and we, the industry, just need to get on and deliver – which we can with our new strategy digested and guided by our new board.

Piff the magic dragonThe summit attendees that stayed for the dinner were entertained by Piff the Magic Dragon.  Piff entered the stage with disinterest and focused on whinging about the cost of his tricks and gimmicks; 20 minutes later he left the stage to raptuous applause, having entertained the audience left wondering how did he do that?  It’s magic after all.

I’m left wondering whether the Summit is really just a magic show and whether like the magic tricks, will I ever understand what really just happened and that things will soon return to business as usual?

My principal reflection from the event is that whilst the excellent work being done and talked about in the Knowledge Hubs on BIM, procurement, GSL etc, the take up by industry is too slow.  If these hubs are talking common-sense, then why isn’t the industry adopting and changing?  I raised concerns following last year’s event and referred to Professor Stuart Green’s book Making Sense of Construction Improvement and the same concerns remain:

Is it possible to change the industry?
This is another blog post; as is a more detailed view on Construction 2025, although this article in Construction News is pretty good and is saying a similar message to me!

Preview of Government Construction Summit 2013

Construction Summit 13
The Government Construction Summit on Tuesday 2nd July 2013 is the second annual event focused on providing information that is shaping Government policies for construction; in other words the progress being made on the implementation of the Government Construction Strategy.
My views on last year’s Summit concluded that it didn’t quite hit the mark for me, mainly because the key issues of implementation needed to involve many of the people not in attendance for various reasons.  This year the price of attending has dropped and the format has changed.There is less emphasis on formal presentations and more time devoted to debate and time to explore the Knowledge Hubs. There are four knowledge hubs

  1. Digital Technologies – BIM and GSL
  2. Green Construction
  3. Procurement and new models of delivery
  4. Investment and Funding

You can find me in the Procurement and new models of delivery hub talking about Two Stage Open Book based on my role as Academic Partner on the SCMG (Supply Chain Management Group) Trial Project.

And it was announced late last week that Peter Hansford the Government’s Chief Construction Advisor will be launching the Industrial Strategy for Construction at the Summit.  As I understand it, whereas the Government Construction Strategy (written by Peter’s predecessor Paul Morrell) focused on Government, Peter’s strategy will focus on the broader strategy for construction and in particular set the vision for Construction 2025.

Pinterest in BIM – why the Govt mandated BIM and it’s subsequent implementation

This post is still work in progress as I endeavour to create my BIM Pinterest. As Government websites seem devoid of such images, I needed a site with the appropriate images hence I’ve created my own on my website.  So this should be read in conjunction with my new Pinterest.

Continue reading

Government Construction Strategy

Government Construction Strategy

If the cover of the Government Construction Strategy is anything to go by, you might be expecting a bland rehash of what ‘we’ve all heard before‘.

Or maybe it’s an demonstration that the authors from the Efficiency and Reform Group of the Cabinet Office and the Construction Sector Unit of BIS are practicing what they are preaching … why add cost when you don’t need to?

Aside from the ‘we’ve heard it all before’ argument, I think I can probably anticipate many of the objections against change

  • What’s the baseline against which the 20% cost reduction will be measured
  • It’s all well and good the Government dictats, but the implementers
    • will still be measured on cost reduction, not added value
    • won’t partner the supply chain
  • We’re on all the frameworks, we’ve done what we were asked to do, but we still don’t / won’t get any work
  • BIM will cost too much and we don’t have the time to train our staff

I’m sure you can add others, but I want us to be open-minded about change for a minute.
Look at my interpretation of what the strategy is trying to achieve:

  1. Make the Public Sector a better client
  2. Ensure the Government gets more bung for its buck
  3. Use the influence of the Government’s expenditure to improve the construction industry
  4. Implement the low carbon construction policy

Surely these aims are we can all agree upon?

The Strategy Action Plan

Noble Francis tweeted that the ‘devil is in the detail’ and as always he’s right. And this is where we haven’t seen it all before. The Strategy document is 43 pages long and half of it is the Appendix setting out the action plan. There are 13 Themes and with numerous objectives and specific actions and timescales.

The themes indicate the authors understand the nature of the problem, have listened to what ‘we’ve all heard before’ and set out to do something about it. The 13 themes are:

  1. Co-ordination and leadership
  2. Forward Programme and data
  3. Governance and client skills
  4. Challenge
  5. Value for money, standards and benchmarking
  6. Efficiency and elimination of waste
  7. Building Information Modelling (“BIM”)
  8. Alignment of design/construction with operation and asset management
  9. Supplier Relationship Management
  10. Competitiveness and reducing duplication (whole public sector)
  11. New Procurement Models
  12. Client Relationship Management
  13. Implementation of existing and emerging Government policy in relation to sustainability and carbon

Examining the action plan it’s clear that the new Government Construction Board has plenty of work to do. And my request is that we at least see if they achieve their first milestones before it gets undermined by negativity.

Will anything change?

At the Be2Camp meet up in May, Don Ward talked about collaboration (Never Waste a Good Crisis) and the question was asked ‘will anything change?’

This strategy is setting out an action plan to improve how the Public Sector wants to operate with the construction industry. This should be applauded as an important step in the right direction for change. Will it change?

Not overnight, but if this is what the demand side want, the supply side generally deliver. I’m optimistic and remain positive that this is a move in the right direction. What do you think?