The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has today announced the restructuring of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), the scrapping of the Council’s Delivery Group, and the abolition of the role of Government’s Chief Construction Advisor (CCA).   BIS Ministers and officials have placed the future emphasis on dialogue with industry, rather than working in partnership, which was the strapline to the Industrial Strategy (Construction 2025).

The Construction Industry Council (CIC), which represents 46 leading professional organisations working in all sectors that create and maintain the built environment, has welcomed the renewed emphasis on dialogue but expressed disappointment at the Government’s decision to discontinue the role of the Chief Construction Adviser.   

Tony Burton, CIC Chairman, a former member of the CLC and senior partner at Gardiner & Theobald is disappointed at the lack of dialogue with industry in arriving at these decisions.  He said:  “It is a pity that this announcement comes without meaningful consultation with industry about the proposals”, adding, “this is especially so given the industry’s unanimous support for the continuation of the Chief Construction Adviser’s role and it is a pity that this united voice has been ignored.   The two CCAs in post over the past six years (Paul Morrell and Peter Hansford) have provided a key role both in terms of their advice to government about being a better client and becoming the key interface between government and the industry.   CIC has supported the role throughout and we were happy to increase the level of that support since we believe that the role is so vital”. 

Graham Watts, the CIC Chief Executive also emphasised the importance of the role: “The industry once had a dedicated Minister of State; but, over time, ministerial interaction with construction has greatly diminished.  Some eight years ago, the appointment of a Chief Construction Officer was recommended by the Trade and Industry Select Committee and, in due course, that recommendation was accepted by government.  I don’t see any circumstances that have changed to negate the need for the role”.   He has argued that industry could take responsibility for funding the role; a point emphasised by Sean Tompkins, the Chief Executive of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who said: “The united industry worked hard to establish a single point of contact through the Chief Construction Adviser and has ensured that two good people have filled the post effectively over the past six years.   The role is still required and – if this is an issue of cost – the leading members of CIC would be willing to make the necessary contribution to keep this important post which combines both expert adviser to Ministers and the highest representative of industry”.   

A new smaller CLC will be established comprising individuals rather than leaders of the main representative bodies, although the Strategic Forum for Construction (of which the CIC is a founder member) has been offered one seat on the new committee, currently with a condition that it be a representative from the manufacturing sector.

The CIC Chairman has expressed disappointment at the move away from representative bodies, which he feels is the only plausible arrangement in such a diverse and huge industry, and the apparent lack of a professional services voice on the new CLC.  “The government has often asked for industry to speak with a single voice but it appears itself now to be working against that objective.   The CLC – as now constituted – is effectively just one more body, not a unification of the various sector organisations, which means that the Strategic Forum for Construction now takes on an even greater significance as the industry’s united voice”.  

The RIBA Chief Executive, Harry Rich, picked up on the balance of representation across the new CLC, saying: “The Construction 2025 agenda has played a major part in helping the UK Construction sector rise to the challenge of getting Britain building. If we are to tackle the housing crisis and deliver the infrastructure needed, it is vital that government works with the whole sector, including architects and other professional services’ providers, who coordinate, enable and drive this work.  The loss of the Chief Construction Adviser role at this crucial time will leave a significant gap in terms of drawing together the skills of the sector. The industry needs to look at how the work streams announced will be coordinated to avoid silos developing in the new approach. It’s therefore vital that the work of the new Construction Leadership Council is informed by the whole of the industry and that the professional services sector has strong representation”.

It is a point also made by Professor John Nolan, the CIC’s newly appointed Deputy Chairman – a former President of the Institution of Structural Engineers and the principal of Nolan Associates. He said: “If the new Council is to be successful it needs the support of the whole of our Industry.  The emphasis on the automotive industry’s council as a model for the CLC is misplaced in my view.   Automotive manufacturers include the design, engineering and other professional processes, which are separate businesses in the construction sector and appear to be thinly represented in this new Council”. 

Christopher Blythe, the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Building welcomed the commitment to dialogue:  “At the CIOB we are encouraged by the change. We welcome the new emphasis on dialogue which means that government will be open to talk to anyone who has something useful to say.  If a business leader can bring a coalition together to fund work streams then it is likely to be more effective than government funded work streams. Business leaders don’t have time to waste and the focus might be a bit sharper”.

Nick Baveystock, the Chief Executive of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said: “The CLC has provided a strong platform for government and industry to collaborate and coordinate efforts to deliver the ambitious Construction 2025 targets – the group carried weight and benefitted from members with influence, including a high level ministerial champion.   While the remit of the new group appears less defined, we are pleased it will continue and hope the new structure provides the same level of leadership and ownership. It is also important that the progress made by the previous members is captured and built on to ensure continuity”.

The focus of the new council is to be on “work streams” headed by council members but delivered with the support and funding of industry.    “This work is already largely being led by the industry bodies who have taken forward initiatives on supply chain, payment, diversity, health and safety, procurement, BIM and so much more”, said Watts.   “This work will continue to be carried out by our members, both directly, through CIC and co-ordinated by the Strategic Forum for Construction.  The key issue will be aligning these initiatives with the new CLC”.

This point was also addressed by Martin Powell, Chief Executive of the Institution of Structural Engineers, who said: “the role of the Chief Construction Advisor has been seen as a vital way of ensuring connectivity between Government and a hugely important sector of the UK economy which by the nature of its business is multi-faceted and not in the hands of a very small number of large providers as in other sectors.  As much as it is down to the sector to handle its own performance issues and change agenda, the contribution of construction to UK plc will be such that we watch with interest for demonstration from Government that in the absence of a dedicated CCA or imaginative alternative, there is real understanding of how the sector can influence, help shape and contribute to recovery and growth across the UK. At first review of the proposals we have concerns about the distancing of the relationship”

“What the new Construction Leadership Council can achieve will be wholly dependent on whether industry is willing and able to join in”, said Burton.  “To achieve that, Industry has to believe that there will be genuine dialogue with a listening government and the necessary resource and funding to participate.  In a market as busy as it is, with people in short supply across all disciplines, there has to be a question mark over that aspect alone”.

The former Deputy Chairman of CIC, Jack Pringle – a past President of the RIBA and Managing Director of Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will – was the CIC’s first representative on the CLG and served as a member of the advisory group that set it up in 2012/13.   He said:  “Ironically one of the lasting legacies of the CLC was to cause industry to get its own house in order in preparation for the meetings with Government at the CLC.  The reformed Strategic Forum for Construction is now a real representation of our complex industry”, he said, adding “and that is perhaps the lasting legacy of the Industrial Strategy – an initiative of Vince Cable that the new government appears to be jettisoning after just three years”.

Comprised of five colleges the Strategic Forum for Construction (SFfC) includes manufacturers, specialist contractors, main contractors, professionals and clients (including government).   “It’s the only game in town that can provide a meaningful dialogue between all the parties”, said Burton, adding “It remains to be seen just how industry will react to the announcement and whether it will look to the reformed council for leadership or to a re-invigorated SFfC”.

Author: Construction Industry Council

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