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Government's latest strategy for construction hits the right notes

There is always foreboding when the latest incarnation of the government’s strategy for construction sector reform is published.

Over the years we’ve had more than a few attempts to make the industry more efficient and more effective. But taking nothing away from the works of Latham (1994), Egan (1998, 2002, 2004), and Wolstenholme (2009), this latest version by chief construction advisor Paul Morrell seems just that bit more doable.

Because, as the Cabinet Office report puts it, “the most compelling benefits arising from this strategy lie in the immediate prospects for improved growth and in increased competitiveness”.

OK, perhaps we have heard much of this before. It is, after all, about eliminating waste and stimulating higher levels of innovation. The aim is to make construction more affordable for customers at home and to create new opportunities abroad.

Yet while even the strategy itself would probably accept that there isn’t really anything here new, this fresh document does now introduce a sense of urgency.

“The target of reducing construction costs by up to 20% by 2015 does actually seem more achievable now that this series of milestones has been set out”

This focus on specific actions and timescales is very welcome. The target of reducing construction costs by up to 20% by 2015 does actually seem more achievable now that this series of milestones has been set out.
And there are also some interesting and potentially scary “must-haves” nestled in, ideas that should certainly cause the industry to start the “profound change” demanded.

The first is the requirement for all publicly procured projects to use “fully collaborative 3D building information modelling (BIM) (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016”.

And while the strategy promises a “staged plan” to help measure progress at the end of each year, there is no question that this will require a huge shift of focus and leap of faith by the industry which has remained reluctant to jump into BIM.

Of course there will be huge concerns over the cost of implementation. Already the numbers are being added up and the potential training, hardware and software costs trotted out. Which is unsuprising.

But in a world where every other sector has been embracing 3D virtual design tools for decades, it is plainly ridiculous for construction to continue its reluctance to invest.

The second idea is to bind contractors and designers more closely by “requiring those who design and construct buildings to prove their operational performance for a period of say three to five years”.

And while no doubt there will already be many trying to work out how they will pass these new responsibilities and risks down the supply chain, there is surely merit in any plan that promotes more longevity in the client-supplier relationship.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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