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Getting more from less: how to survive the recession

Delivering more for less is without question going to be the mantra for the civil engineering and construction industry over the next half decade - and perhaps beyond.

It was a point highlighted by the government’s chief construction advisor Paul Morrell last week at the launch of NCE’s new Infrastructure Show which will focus on helping the industry tackle just this issue.

So prepare yourselves. You are going to be hearing a lot more about this particular mantra in the future, not least in NCE over the next nine months building towards the Infrastructure Show and starting with our special focus on the subject on 25 March.

And no apologies for this. Successfully getting your head around what you need to do to give your clients more for less while still making a return yourselves is likely to be crucial to keeping you in business going forward.

“The key challenge for every public sector client is how to deliver 20% to 30% more value for every pound spent”

As the economic secretary to the Treasury, Ian Pearson said last week: “We will need to do more for less…the more savings we make through innovative ideas and collaborative procurement, the greater resource we will have available”.

But what exactly does delivering more for less mean? Morrell explains that, as far as public sector clients are concerned, we need simply to focus on two themes.

The first “more” is around the testing issue of public procurement. As we are all now very aware, the UK’s coff ers are empty.

The key challenge facing public sector clients today is how to deliver 20% to 30% more value for every public pound spent and to prepare for the impending 2011 post-election cuts.

The second is around carbon and the critical need for public clients to meet the demands of the government’s ambitious low carbon transition plan.

Meeting the challenge of reducing every department’s emissions and embedded carbon is now very much the driver for change and informs the language spoken by government.

“Meeting the challenge of reducing every department’s emissions and embedded carbon is now very much the driver for change.”

Our task must be to work out how we can help clients to deliver more service for less cash and carbon and while using new ideas to create new businesses and new jobs. Sadly our industry is still lagging behind.

As Morrell put it, “you don’t look like an industry that has a plan for its future”. The automotive industry has an established 40 year plan for innovation and growth. The engineering and construction sector needs to do something similar.

This is why tackling this issue, and starting the conversations that will lead to actions, is critical. We will involve clients, consultants, contractors and suppliers to help the industry to form this vital plan.

To mirror the comment made consistently by Morrell since taking on his role in December, we must welcome anyone and anything that will improve this conversation. Please join in.

■ Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (7)

  • Having a future is NOT about delivering "more for less", it's about delivering successful projects and being forward thinking.

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  • With a few exceptions, much of our work is about repairing & replacing our tired, creaking, old infrastructure while it is still in operation. This is much more difficullt & dsiruptive than "Green filed" construction, so it is more expensive. I agree that forward planning is required, but a "More for Less" mantra often cannot be delivered.

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  • Having a future is about delivering more for less especially in the field of Asset Management. There are plenty of opportunities including - looking at other countries to see if lessons can be learnt, collaborative procurement across the public sector, analysing and adjusting levels of service (avoiding gold plating), reviewing maintenance regimes (frequency, methods and procurement), designing for reduced whole of life cost, reducing waste through better co-ordination and programme integration within and with external parties, better understanding of whole of life economics to enable appropriate treatment selection, sharing of information to enable accelerated learning etc.

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  • Nick Munro

    'Value for money' is a more achievable aim that 'More for less.' If clients, contractors and consultants all played their respective parts in projects properly that could be achieved. But 'More for less' - never!

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  • I agree with Mr Munro in terms of striving to achieve better value for money, rather than more for less. I think it all starts with the recruitment process, especially from where I fit in with the engineering industry. Has anyone seen this site?

    The sooner it gets going the better - its time for a shake-up!

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  • The immediate action necessary is for the ICE and other related Professional Engineering Institutions to insist that the UK Construction Adviser to the Government should be an Engineer and not a Quantity Surveyor, and preferably a Civil Engineer.

    Quantity Surveyors, Lawyers, Accountants and others who now too frequently get involved at very senior levels in such Construction and Engineering matters are not trained in and have no meaningful hands-on knoweledge or experience of critical key skills necessary for any proper leadership or effective inputs on such "Best Value" or "More for Less" exercises.

    Such necessary experience includes: investigations and determinations of the optimum combination of design element options possible or available to provide the most cost/time/risk efficient designs to accommodate a particular project's and site's opportunities and constraints and their functional needs; drafting adequate and sufficiently comprehensive specifications and contracts; detailing designs including full life cycle overall efficient method related designs, permanent construction/installation works and temporary works; project management and programme management.

    Typical QS and Accountant inputs inevitably focus on cutting margins, on BOQ type tenders and bottom line construction cost assessments, and even on Dutch Auction cost leadership tactics for both consultancy and contracting works. This is no remedy for the UK or for the UK Civil Engineering and Construction Industry and provides no basis for market generated improvements in performancer.

    Those consultants/contractors who succeed should be those who can earn higher margins by providing better, more overall cost and performance efficient Designs and Project Management which provide very significant and identifiable overall cost/time/risk benefits to Clients for any particular project; not those who can increase turnover, operate intensive QS led claims campaigns to recover from under-pricing and under-estimating errors, and all with lower margins and lower unit costs and hence with lower salaries and insufficient funds for training and maintaining and improving core technical and engineering/construction skills.

    The ICE should concentrate on on this very necessary revolution.

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  • “More for Less” – what utter nonsense. Remember the saying “Things costs what they cost”, if you don’t believe this then you are kidding yourself. The press is full of election hype about efficiencies, savings and waste; of course all parties are going to cut the deficit but “front line services will be unaffected” – do you really believe this? Similarly, if you accept the more for less argument you accept that we have been doing everything wrong and inefficiently for years and we’ve all been making tons of profit. Of course things can always be improved but let’s get real, there’s no magic wand. You pay your money and make your choice: cheap and cheerful or expensive and excellent. Too often Clients go for lowest cost and expect the highest quality – it just isn’t possible!

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  • Thanks for your comment. I agree that we must absolutely retain the highest quality in everything that we do but the reality is that in future, if we want to be able to build the infrastructrue that is vital to the UK's future prosperity, then we must make sure that it is affordable. That means doing things differently and not just more cheaply. Cutting 5-10%off costs or lopping margins is not going to achieve the savings required - we need to change the way we approach infrastructure design, construction and management. And that must surely be seen as an opportunity - not a threat - to our profession.<br/>Antony Oliver

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