Government strategy for construction: go abroad
Peter Hansford: “Handle on delivery”
The government’s new roadmap for the future of the UK construction industry is likely to signpost the industry in a new direction – overseas.
Encouraging exports and overseas contracting is likely to be a theme of the forthcoming Industrial Strategy for Construction, being drafted over the next six months and due to be published this summer.
The strategy is being co-ordinated by Peter Hansford, the government’s new chief construction adviser, with input from an industry-wide advisory council. It was announced by business secretary Vince Cable last September.
The direction of travel follows outspoken criticism last year of construction’s “stay at home” mentality from Nick Baird, chief executive of government body UK Trade & Investment. It also comes as falling demand in the UK – output fell by 9% in 2012 – leaves the industry with excess capacity in its domestic market.
In an interview with Construction Manager, Hansford said: “It’s not about what the government will do, but what the government and industry can do together [to promote exports].
“If you look at the international market in contracting, the UK contractors are not massive players, there are very few in the international Top 20. You’ve got the consultants working extensively overseas and who always have done, and many product companies, so this is about taking it further.”
Hansford’s commitment to boosting the industry’s export capacity was welcomed by Graham Robinson, global business consultant for law firm Pinsent Masons. “It’s very simple – you have to go where there’s growth, and at the moment that means overseas,” he said. “The government should look at things like credit guarantee schemes, and reciprocal trade agreements between the UK and other countries – the government can do a lot to help with risk management.
“But bribery and corruption is a real problem [under the Bribery Act 2010], if you’re the responsible person and it’s endemic in the country you’re operating in. The government needs to work with counter-party governments on reducing the problem, and with the sector on managing it. If you can overcome this issue, it would certainly help the industry.”
Apart from his role in drafting the new industrial strategy, Hansford told CM that his priorities would be “cost, carbon, innovation and skills”, and delivering results on the work already underway across government.
“We already have the agendas for cost and efficiency in the Government Construction Strategy, and for carbon with the Green Construction Board. We also have the BIM strategy, so all the agendas are clear – it’s now about getting a handle on delivery.
“The second priority is integration, and showing how the various strategies we have link together – they can be seen by the industry and others as being fragmented. For instance, how do the policies on cost efficiency and carbon link? How does BIM link to both of these? The answer is that they do, but the linkages may not be that clear”
In an early move to promote greater cohesion in policy making, Hansford has integrated the teams working on the Treasury’s Infrastructure UK division and the Government Construction Strategy (which falls under BIS) in a new joint Steering Committee.
“We have lots of pieces of work, and we need to ensure we don’t get duplication, but we do get synergy and rationalisation,” said Hansford.
For more on Hansford’s plans in his new role, see the February edition of CM.