Success or failure of Infrastructure UK’s attempts to drive down the cost of civil engineering projects may come down to handful of individuals.
This is surely a good thing.
Speaking at this week’s launch of the implementation plan for last December’s Infrastructure Cost Review, senior officials at the Treasury body were keen to stress that now was the time for those involved to become accountable for their actions.
The plan sets out a raft of activities that will take place throughout this year and beyond which together will, it is hoped, deliver the kind of savings that could add up to £2bn to £3bn a year.
Nothing in the plan is rocket science; most of it has been heard before; and quite a lot of it is already being practiced in certain sectors, by certain clients, and by certain firms in the supply chain.
But none of it is universally practiced, IUK bosses say, and none of it before has had individuals taking the lead in making it happen.
When it comes to jobs on the line over delivery, clearly the yet-to-be-appointed replacement for recently departed chief executive James Stewart is top of the list.
But others are also investing “part of their personal reputations” in making it work, says IUK.
These include industry champions Network Rail director of investment projects Simon Kirby, chief scientific advisor professor Brian Collins and Bam Nuttall chief executive Steve Fox who, overseen by ICE president Peter Hansford, are taking up the baton handed over by Arup chairman Terry Hill, who led the cost review study.
The first indications of the success – or failure – of IUK and the industry champions to make a difference will be March next year, when the government will report on progress made.
“Progress, or lack of progress, will be pretty visible”
This progress will be monitored by a Joint Programme Management Board, to be chaired by chief construction advisor Paul Morrell and include representatives from IUK, relevant government departments, their delivery agencies and industry regulaors. The board will report in to cabinet office minister Francis Maude, who has already made a name for himself in driving costs out of the construction supply chain through his Efficiency and Reform Group.
“Progress, or lack of progress, will be pretty visible,” said one industry leader close to the programme.
The plan itself is very “granular” in nature, for which IUK is unapologetic.
“The strength of this plan is in its granularity,” said an IUK source. “A lot of these things are pretty micro and we make no apologies for it.”
This makes the success or failure all the easier to judge, it hopes.
“A number of very detailed steps are being put in place and it be very clear if we are following through and it will over time become clear if this is really making a difference. If its not delivered, it will be very clear where the accountability lies,” said an IUK insider.
“We are trying our best to give a transparency to this and it will be very clear which part of the system is not delivering,” said another.
“Much of the plan at this stage is based on aspiration and intention”
Contractors were broadly supportive, if naturally sceptical.
“There are a lot of good ideas contained within the Implementation Plan,” said Civil Engineering Contractors Association national director Rosemary Beales.
“However, much of the plan at this stage is based on aspiration and intention, and only when progress toward these immediate goals is reported on next year, will it be possible to tell if the government is truly committed to helping industry deliver the savings that can undoubtedly be made,” she said.
Visible step number one comes next month, when IUK has committed to publishing a charter that will establish the basis of joint work between the government and the industry to promote behavioural change and to develop new procurement and delivery models to improve integration and promote efficiency and growth.
Eyes will be on the wording of the charter, as it clear that come next March failure to deliver to it will made clear for all to see.