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Morrell - the first interview

The newly appointed Chief Construction Adviser (CCA), Paul Morrell has pledged to keep a ‘team’ of Civil Engineers on call to ensure adequate representation to government.

In his first interview since taking up the post on Tuesday, Morrell spoke to NCE.

A genial QS and former partner at consultant Davis Langdon, he says his role will be to: “Do more with less and focus on the low-carbon economy.

“The industry has been calling for this for a long time, and in the past it may have been that in speaking for construction some providers are neglected. But in the past 10 years, the industry has made enormous strides to pull messages together,” he says.

My father was a civil engineering contractor and I have been sitting on building sites since I was born and have been in construction my whole life.

Chief Construction Adviser Paul Morrell

He admits that whoever took the CCA post would be lacking in certain areas, but he is already looking at ways to address this. “Everyone who went for the job will have gaps because the industry is so broad.

“But we can’t underestimate civil engineering. I also don’t know the technical aspects in generation or transmission, water etc, so I will use a panel of people I can call on to cover the whole territory. There is no subject where there is someone who does not know more than me.

“Then there is the importance of civils – we are looking at particular expertise in this area,” he says.

His next step is to go to industry and make firm industry contacts, which will take the bulk of his time up to Christmas.

“There are things that are getting in the way of reducing carbon emissions and getting in the way of productivity. I want to find out what these blockages are in relation to government – to go out to listen and form an opinion.”

“Reducing carbon emissions is now written into law, and going forward it will be as important as money. The renewal of infrastructure is instrumental in doing this,” he says

I spent most of my working life at the point where demand and supply meet, through the messy business of money, which drives decisions

Paul Morrell

While he is looking for opinions to take to government, he is already certain of one thing, and has already decided how to say it. “I can’t say stop the stop-start spending cycle, but I can say there is a considerable opportunity to be efficient, to train people and invest.

“The route is to make clear – when you stop investing in infrastructure, that is not a choice without consequences. You damage the economy and the carbon economy.”

When the post was first announced, some were critical because the job would be just three days per week. Morrell thinks differently. “I don’t think anyone who applied for the job thought they would do it in three days. For the next year I am full-time. I’m a workaholic,” he admits.

A cursory look at his duties suggests lots of time in meetings – will the post be just a talking shop?

Not at all, he says, citing the Treasury’s Construction Category Strategy Board, which he will chair, as critical to his success as it brings the whole of government together. “The alternative to this would be more meetings – to meet each department individually. The Low-Carbon agenda is the key thing to drive here because it will allow the whole of government to be covered at the same time.”

I start on December 1 but in reality I’m already off and will spend the next week or two to understand my new geography

Paul Morrell

He is adamant that his post is not in competition with established industry bodies such as the CBI’s year-old Construction Council. “The job would be impossible without talking to these people. There is no way you can ignore them,” and his first official duty is a accompany Construction minister Ian Lucas and the CBI’s John McDonough on a visit to the Olympic park.

Conflict with government, as bedevilled the drugs adviser Professor Nutt, will sidestepped he promises. “Advice goes down better with honey than it does with vinegar. Issues tend not to be political and I don’t want to fight anyone,” he says.

Oddly, under a Conservative government, which is possible with an election looming - his contact would be another QS: Mark Prisk. Do they know one another?

“I have met him, although I’m sure he does not remember. Governments will have different points of view but I will just get on with the job,” he says.

Industry reaction

Atkins chief executive and chairman of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Keith Clarke, has been interim leader of the department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) ‘Innovation & Growth Team’ strategic review of construction. Morrell now takes over this job.

Clarke said: “This is a tremendous appointment, both in the quality of the selected candidate and the fact that Government sees such strategic leadership as a priority for the construction industry. Paul Morrell’s considerable experience will prove a valuable asset in providing the vital bridge between Government in its role as client, regulator and industry supporter, and the diverse construction and engineering community itself. 

“His appointment comes at a crucial time because Government and industry is considering the improvements that need to be made to the UK’s major infrastructure to make sure it remains fit for purpose. We are facing multiple challenges in the transition to a low carbon economy and the engineering and construction sectors must play an absolutely fundamental role. It is therefore vital we have a roadmap for success and that there is someone making sure everyone follows it.”

Chairman of the CBI’s Construction Council, John McDonough, said: “There is now a great opportunity to move the industry forward, and the CBI Construction Council looks forward to working with the Chief Construction Adviser on a range of key issues including the Innovation & Growth Team and the wider importance of the Government’s infrastructure investment programme in relation to the UK economy, the Government’s sustainabilty and carbon reduction targets, and to training and employment”.

National director of the Civil Engineers Contractors Association (CECA), Rosemary Beales said: “After a long period of having a new Minister for Construction on average every nine months, civil engineering contractors will welcome this appointment as a step forward in the way that the Government and the construction industry work together.

“We will work with Mr Morrell to tackle the issues currently facing members, not least the workload crisis we highlighted in our recent state of trade survey, and will set out the steps we hope he will impress upon Ministers to relieve the situation. An early priority must be maintaining and making better use of public money available for investment in infrastructure.

“Combined with recent planning reforms and the potential establishment of Infrastructure UK, establishing the role of Chief Construction Advisor is another positive step toward a more productive understanding between the Government and the civils’ sector.”

ICE Director General Tom Foulkes, said: “The creation of this role is something ICE has urged for many years. It has the potential to make a huge difference to industry/government relations, providing the focus and strategic framework required to ensure engagement and consistency.

“The role, providing it maintains a strategic approach, could also provide industry with the platform it needs to deal with the major challenges facing society, such as the transition to a low carbon economy and improving the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure networks, which have been under immense pressure following the events of the last few days and continue to be at risk from future crises.

“There are significant challenges for the CCA and expectations will be high. In the civil engineering sector, a key focus must be to end the unpredictable, stop-start cycle of government investment that has bedevilled the development of UK infrastructure in recent decades. To achieve this goal, it is vital that the CCA improves co-ordination of public sector procurement and provides industry with a better picture of future demand. It is also important that this role works closely with initiatives already in place – Infrastructure UK, the National Policy Statements for Infrastructure and the Infrastructure Planning Commission.”

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