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Clients stymie R&D spending

Britain’s construction industry is seen as inert and uncompetitive in Europe because firms are reluctant to admit to clients what they spend on innovation, a European transport lobby group told NCE this week.

Competetiveness ‘needs a rethink’

National Road Research Centre in Partnerships secretary general Steve Phillips has petitioned the European Commission to rethink the way it measures competitiveness in construction.

Figures obtained by the commission place the construction and engineering sectors in the UK well behind European counterparts on research and development (R&D) spending − a key indicator of competitiveness.
Phillips blamed the lack of innovation on clients.

“We still have the problem that contractors and consultants don’t really want to tell their client a figure on research,” he said.

“If [the commission doesn’t] see infrastructure innovation, it means that we will scrabble along as we have for a long time and only be able to pick up the scraps from the table”

National Road Research Centre in Partnerships secretary general Steve Phillips

“They will look at it and think, what has this money been spent on? There is a gap here in that clients say they want innovation but are reluctant to see it in black and white on proposals.”

“If [the commission doesn’t] see infrastructure innovation, it means that we will scrabble along as we have for a long time and only be able to pick up the scraps from the table,” said Phillips.

The commission says that only two UK civil engineering consultants figured on the list of the top 1,000 companies’ 2010 R&D spends across Europe. These were Arup which spent £12.6M and Mouchel, which spent £10.3M.

Contractors fared even worse, with Balfour Beatty being the only such UK firm to make the list, spending £4M in 2010.

R&D ‘lifeblood of the firm’

Arup director Kate Hall said the company takes R&D very seriously and it is the “lifeblood of the firm and an investment in the future”.

“In terms of economics, it is time to cut back and it is easy to cut back, but we haven’t. We’ve spent the same as last year even though the firm is smaller.”

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