Labour Party Conference Fringe Meeting
Improving the built infrastructure of this country – what
Speech by Trevor Walker, Construction Confederation
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen
This is a welcome opportunity to address you, and I was pleased
that Nigel Griffiths, minister responsible for construction was able
to join us. It’s just a pity that his pressures of office prevented
him from listening to the industry because we do have concerns of
Construction’s relationship with Government, our industry’s
biggest single client and sponsor, is vital and this opportunity
to discuss how we must work closer together to deliver a better value
for money infrastructure programme for the nation is crucially important
This is recognised by all sections of our industry - employers,
unions professionals and product suppliers.
It’s vital not only to those 2½ million men and women
who work every day in our industry, but society as a whole.
Improved public infrastructure in the form of:
- Social Housing
Benefits everyone, people of all ages, from every walk of life.
As an industry we welcomed this Government’s recognition
of the significance of infrastructure to this country’s well
being and future prosperity and of the need to continue investment
to improve it.
After years of neglect and under funding that support and recognition
was a breath of fresh air.
It’s a shame then, that despite all the talk it just isn’t
Almost in every area spend is fading.
Targets are being missed.
Others are at risk of being missed.
The Construction Product Association’s superb report ‘Achievable
Targets’ highlights where the Government is already
behind and getting further and further behind.
I have my own examples:
- The integrated ten year transport plan is in disarray, effectively
cancelled, with road and rail, capital and maintenance spend nowhere
near planned necessary levels
- Prime contracting, to modernise defence estates infrastructure,
is way behind implementation.
- Scottish Water’s programme for upgrading water and sewage
north of the border has failed to materialise. Spend again half
of that proposed, though now panicking
- New school building and maintenance behind spend needs
- Housing – becoming increasingly bogged in ever growing
and stifling regulations and planning issues – substantially
One point I would like to nail right at the onset is the suggestion
that our industry does not have the capacity to carry out the programme
We do. So don’t say – “we had to slow down
its release because you couldn’t cope”
This is nonsense –
A complete red herring.
Our industry always delivers its projects and programmes
It has a clearly demonstrated ability to respond to steady and
Never has it failed to deliver because of a resources issue.
For the last 3 to 4 years the Government has promised a programmed
investment on infrastructure
We believed the promise.
We invested in:-
- Training and upskilling
- Plant and material developments
- We co-ordinated design teams
- We adopted modern procurement processes using longer term relationships
and developed supply chains
- We resourced and financed
- We researched and developed
All has built the more responsive, capable industry you required
able to deliver your prophesied needs
As an industry we also know smooth consistent work flow delivers
best value for money.
The message is simple:
Our industry works best with long term planning – that’s
what you promised
If Government remains serious about the delivery of their programme
to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure there needs to be a
greater focus on the overall strategic programme, rather than on
individual projects or programs
And another critical area of the problem is the public sector’s
lack of procurement expertise.
Private sector clients manage their building programmes efficiently
and effectively by repeating and learning.
They don’t insist on new terms and new processes for each
part of their programme.
Their learnt experience delivers even better and better value as
the programme goes on.
This is an example the public sector must follow
It’s surely not unreasonable to expect a greater degree of
uniformity across individual Government departments and agencies’ procurement
We need a more centralised approach to the best value procurement
And while we are on procurement -
Public sector employees need to be guided and encouraged to make
decisions using best value evaluations.
Lowest price provides an easy but usually wrong yardstick to use
for project award and best value for money
Part of the industry response to Build for the Task was to look
at what mechanisms would deliver best value for the nation’s
We found them in two major in-depth industry reports.
Latham and Egan both came to the same solid conclusions encompassing
the best experience we could find.
World leading conclusions accepted by all sides of industry – Government
Best value not cheapest price
Principles always found in
Co-operation not confrontation
We all know this is the best way to work.
Why then isn’t Government working this way with us?
- Local Authorities are really reluctant
- Government departments and agencies – still reluctant – are
each doing their own thing
- Network Rail – God bless it, is returning to the days
of competitive tendering for almost everything
We really need Government to be a best practice client - to implement
and to lead others through a cultural change; to adopt what we
all know to be best practice
Let’s stop talking about it – let’s do it. Also,
understand that as the major client you have significant procurement
muscle. Don’t be frightened to use it to increase and improve
Only put on your select lists those suppliers:-
- Who have improved health and safety
- Who look after their workforce
- Who train and upskill them
- Who are improving quality
- Who are giving better value
We’ve invested all the resources to improve the products
- recognise the effort and investment
This really is vital to ensure the future development of the industry,
its processes and its people, and to attract new entrants
You must reward effort, support and recognise the major improvement
initiatives that companies across the industry are making.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, recent changes to the funding
of construction research and development by the DTI have put at risk
construction research programmes.
So its vital that DTI recognise the funding needs of construction
And that ways are found to support their research and development
programmes for the future.
A year ago I addressed, this meeting, with considerable optimism.
I applauded Government for its recognition that infrastructure
improvement is crucial to the economic development of the country
and understanding that you can’t have one without the other.
I assured you industry was gearing up to meet and deliver the needs.
Well we have geared up – we’re waiting and able
But as I’ve spelt out to you, and as the report illustrates,
Government’s not delivering its promised programmes – its
taken its foot off the accelerator pedal. In some areas it’s
even put the brakes on.
Industry’s investment to mobilise and deliver has been enormous.
We achieved a capacity uplift to match your programmed projections
Our resource developed plans are now coming to fruition at the
very time that the programmes are either:-
- Effectively cancelled
- Or changed
- Or slowed down
- Or just not delivering
What a waste of our industry’s collective effort and resource
Resource that would have been much better employed on real best
value, not virtual delivery
For all our sakes, and all our futures, let us get on with the
job you want us to do,
for which we’ve geared up the industry. Let us upgrade the
country’s built infrastructure
- Help us with regulations, don’t hinder us
- Help us with long term steady state, not stop/start, programmes
- Help us with planning processes
- Help us with R&D funding
- Help us with better procurement processes
- Help us to deliver better value
Then together we can provide the people of this country with the
world class infrastructure they need and which this Government has