As we enter an election year, our report out today underlines the need for a mindset shift, from short-term measures to a long-term vision
It is easier to talk about problems and complain about all the things that never work than it is to share our hopes, dreams and visions. This seems especially true of the construction industry, perhaps because it does face some very real and complex problems.
Many experts, going back to Latham and Egan, have examined the industry’s systemic failings and have proposed reforms to make it less adversarial, fragmented and inefficient. Progress has been made on some fronts, but it has been slow. Meanwhile, the Grenfell disaster and climate crisis have created a sense of urgency, with many recognising that the pace of change must accelerate.
A year ago, the Building the Future Commission picked eight challenging areas for construction in order to highlight the solutions that stand the best chance of making a difference. The danger is that, faced with so many compelling priorities, it becomes hard to see how to take effective action. Thankfully, the evidence we have gathered over the past 12 months points to the opposite being the case.
Through our extensive consultation with the industry, the commission has found a widespread determination among organisations, companies and individuals to learn from past disappointments and to redouble efforts to move forwards.
None of these issues can be solved overnight. We need to be honest about that and demand that our politicians are too
The common thread running through all the topics in our report published today is that, when it comes to fixing construction’s problems, what is required most is strategic thinking alongside long-term planning and investment. Too often the industry has had to lurch from crisis to crisis, short-term needs trumping the long-term goals.
We see the consequences of this approach all around us in the crumbling state of our schools, in our draughty homes, in the ever-growing shortage of affordable housing, in our creaking railway network, in our neglected urban centres, and in the poor reputation of our vocational education system.
Click below to download The Long-term Plan for Construction report
None of these issues can be solved overnight. We need to be honest about that and demand that our politicians are too.
The timing of this report coincides with what is widely expected to be an election year, but the recommendations contained within it are designed to straddle the election cycle. Policy flip-flopping from ministers on crucial issues such as planning reform, green policies and HS2 funding undermines business confidence and ultimately damages the economy.
While the commission has identified areas where there is a need for clear government regulation, policy and funding, many of the commission’s calls for action are directed towards the industry itself and the need for greater co-ordination and information-sharing. This is particularly relevant when it comes to digital technology and AI, with rapid innovations offering the possibility of huge productivity gains if harnessed well.
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the commission’s work, especially our commissioners who pointed us to interesting areas of enquiry. We realise that 12 months is not nearly enough time to fully explore the solutions that could “fix” construction, and so this report also marks the launch of the Building the Future Think Tank.
This is an editorial series of research projects in partnership with the industry, with our three national headline sponsors Gleeds, Fenwick Elliott and RLB. And, given the success of our country-wide consultation, we have a new series of regional roundtable debates in partnership with Constructing Excellence scheduled for 2024 and in London we will host our full-day conference in September once again.
We aim to keep the conversation going, believing that the importance of construction means that it can and should do better in the future.
Chloe McCulloch, editorial director, Building and Building Design