Details of Construction Playbook announced by government

The government has outlined bold new plans to reform and modernise the construction industry with a series of initiatives designed to build schemes more quickly and efficiently, ramp up the use of modern construction techniques, cut carbon emissions – and help firms make more money.

The long-awaited Construction Playbook from the sector’s biggest client spells outs how it expects construction to lead the UK economy, which is forecast to drop more than 11% this year, out of the havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic and help hit the government’s net zero target by 2050.

101 George Street modular Croydon projects George Street images (9)

101 George Street by HTA Design, a modular project in Croydon

Key proposals include bundling projects into portfolios with longer-term contracts, standardising design and ripping up procurement to focus on outcomes instead of cutting costs.

The move was welcomed by the programme director of the Construction Innovation Hub who said government backing to reform and modernise the industry was crucial to the chances of it happening.

Keith Waller said: “We need government to bring to bear its enormous buying power as a client to help us turn our transformative ambitions into a reality.”

The 78-page document lays out plans for modernising construction by standardising designs and parts, as well as promoting the greater use of digital technologies such as BIM.

Jaimie Johnston, a director at offsite specialist architect Bryden Wood, said: “Modern methods of construction underpin the playbook. The combination of offsite manufacturing and new onsite construction techniques means we can finally leave behind the crowded, dirty and dangerous construction site and build more efficiently, more quickly and more sustainably.”

It was drawn up by the Cabinet Office, which said the Playbook will give greater certainty to industry through long-term plans for key programmes and thereby give firms enough confidence to plough cash into investing in new technologies to help improve productivity and efficiency.

But Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service and Peabody’s chairman, said clients from local authorities to NHS trusts would have to overhaul the way they procure work for it to have any impact.

He said: “This is going to involve as much of a change for the procurement side in the public sector as it is for the construction sector. If that doesn’t happen, there is a real risk that the sector will look to change – but find the procurement process won’t have shifted enough to allow it.”

And Kerslake, who is also non-executive chairman at Hull-based framework supplier Pagabo, said he wanted to see a more formalised plan of how change would be overseen across the public sector.

He said: “There’s quite a lot of work and thought required about how this will be delivered across the public sector – which is a huge, diverse set of organisations, but maybe that’s a second document.”

James Wimpenny, chief executive of leading contractor Bam, said the industry had to improve margins for the government’s plans to make a difference.

He added: “It is now saying that it wants the sector to be more profitable. Too many companies have failed because the risks firms have taken on were too high for the wafer-thin margins made. That has to change and Bam welcomes the recognition that using longer term and fairer contracting arrangements, so companies in the sector can make a proper return.”

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Green initiatives in the playbook include promoting the use of carbon assessments to understand and minimise the greenhouse emissions of projects.

Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew said: “By adopting the new Construction Playbook we will help ensure that the sector becomes greener and more innovative.”

The playbook comes into force this month and applies to all public works projects and programmes including building, civil engineering, construction or equipment projects.