Five years on from the Government Construction Strategy 2011 which heralded the introduction of the Building Information Modelling Level 2 mandate among other things, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has published the latest iteration of the strategy covering 2016-2020.
The new strategy aims to increase productivity in government construction and deliver a further £1.7 billion in efficiency savings from public sector construction. It focuses on the fundamental issues that are holding back the industry from being more productive; leadership, procurement practices, client capability, BIM (digital construction), collaborative working, skills and whole life costs.
If this looks familiar, then it’s probably because the key priorities have not fundamentally changed from its predecessor and Construction 2025. And in reality, that’s probably right. Productivity (and efficiency) in construction compares poorly to other sectors of the economy.
For five years the focus has been on efficiencies to deliver 20% savings in construction costs and the strategy highlights the £3 billion of efficiency savings already delivered. The government will continue to demand greater efficiencies of the public sector during this parliament, so the question is how will this new strategy help deliver these savings?
In 2015 Constructing Excellence published Unlocking Productivity and called for leadership from government in driving efficiencies and improving productivity within the sector. It should welcome, therefore, the Strategic Delivery Group to co-ordinate the delivery of specific workstreams in the new strategy.
Client capability as a strategic priority will also be welcomed by the sector alongside support for new models of procurement which embrace early supply chain involvement, collaborative working and cost transparency.
There are underpinning client capability principles that will support government departments to deliver their construction activity more productively and realise efficiency savings. These principles include informed client leadership, early engagement of suppliers, commitment to continuous improvement, and the ability to develop a collaborative culture with the supply chain.
However, these objectives were also central to the previous strategy, which identified a need to replace adversarial cultures with collaborative ones. Many would argue that there has been little progress in improving these areas so should we be encouraged by their ongoing strategic importance? Perhaps we should because if we can get this right we stand a good chance of meeting the wider improvement goals.
BIM and digital construction
It will be a surprise to many that the strategy identifies the majority of government departments as having already met the requirements for BIM Level 2. The word from the industry is that we still some way off BIM Level 2. Our intelligence is that the majority of departments and other clients have yet to grasp what is really required of them to procure projects in alignment with BIM Level 2 standards and to deliver them collaboratively with their supply chains.
However, rather than focus on the negative, it is encouraging to see continued support for achieving BIM Level 2 through the development of a more ambitious set of measures. Following on the announcement in the budget, the strategy also contains a commitment to develop the digital standards to enable BIM Level 3. To its credit, the strategy does acknowledge the need to develop client skills, capability and experience around BIM, including support on procurement, early supply chain engagement and collaborative working.
Collaboration is key to the new Government Construction Strategy
BIM and many of the other objectives of the strategy will be underpinned by collaborative working and this is still perhaps the greatest barrier to achieving the wider objectives of continuous improvement in the construction sector. The strategy, as we might expect, identifies collaboration, led by clients, as an important priority. But the question is if this objective is to be realistically achieved, is the strategy sufficient to deliver it?
The Action Plan which accompanies the strategy sets out the programme of work over the next four years, including the development and delivery of actions plans for departments to build their capability, the continuation of trials for new models of construction procurement and departmental support for further BIM capability.
Overall, this strategy focuses on the right things. But these have been the right things to focus on for a long time. As laudable as the objectives are we need to see a clear implementation plan, with clear leadership and a commitment to working with the sector to deliver it. The Action Plan includes proposals for engagement with local government and the industry, although it lacks some of the detail of how this will be delivered.
There is much to welcome in the strategy’s direction of travel, but it will be vital for the government to engage the sector more widely in its delivery. Ultimately, however, the success of the strategy will be judged on the basis of measurable changes in the way in which projects are procured and delivered, which result in quantifiable improvements in productivity across the sector. Some thing which previous strategies have, to date, not managed to achieve.