Peo­ple, not bricks and mor­tar, are the foun­da­tions of our in­fra­struc­ture

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - HAYDN MURSELL

In­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture re­mains a key con­trib­u­tor to the UK’S eco­nomic growth. As we head fur­ther into 2018, one of the fun­da­men­tal chal­lenges we face in the UK is ac­cel­er­at­ing this in­vest­ment.

In the an­nual up­date of its in­fra­struc­ture and con­struc­tion pipe­line, pub­lished in De­cem­ber, the UK Gov­ern­ment out­lined over £460bn of planned in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment across the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors, in­clud­ing over £240bn which will oc­cur in the next four years. The scale of this project pipe­line is im­mense, cov­er­ing the con­struc­tion and main­te­nance of roads, rail­ways, hos­pi­tals, power sta­tions and schools.

Stud­ies have con­sis­tently shown that in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture has a strong mul­ti­plier ef­fect, with ev­ery £1 spent on con­struc­tion out­put es­ti­mated to gen­er­ate nearly £3 in to­tal eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

But if th­ese projects are to be built, the Gov­ern­ment needs to en­sure that the Bri­tish con­struc­tion in­dus­try is in the strong­est pos­si­ble shape and that skills de­vel­oped in the UK are de­ployed on the largest and most tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing projects. We have to keep the abil­ity to at­tract and re­tain tal­ent in an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive global mar­ket. Peo­ple, not bricks and mor­tar, are the lifeblood of the con­struc­tion and ser­vices sec­tors.

At­tract­ing peo­ple into the in­dus­try, how­ever, is a fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge, and we cur­rently face a po­ten­tial work­force short­fall.

Around 400,000 con­struc­tion jobs were lost dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and the in­dus­try con­tin­ues to lose around 140,000 peo­ple a year.

Against this back­drop, it is para­mount that gov­ern­ment lends its full sup­port to on­go­ing ini­tia­tives by pri­vate sec­tor em­ploy­ers to at­tract new em­ploy­ees. Kier and many of our in­dus­try peers are mem­bers of The 5pc Club, which seeks to in­crease the re­cruit­ment of ap­pren­tices, spon­sored stu­dents and grad­u­ates. By join­ing, mem­bers strive to achieve 5pc of their work­force in “earn and learn” po­si­tions – in­clud­ing ap­pren­tices, spon­sored stu­dents and grad­u­ates on for­mal train­ing schemes – within five years. We be­lieve mem­ber­ship of The 5pc Club or a 5pc com­mit­ment to ap­pren­tices and grad­u­ates should be a pre­req­ui­site to be el­i­gi­ble to bid for pub­lic projects.

At Kier we have taken our ac­tions one step fur­ther through our “Shap­ing Your World” cam­paign, pro­vid­ing more than 200 am­bas­sadors to visit schools to tell stu­dents about the op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist in the built en­vi­ron­ment. In ad­di­tion, we be­lieve it is im­por­tant for gov­ern­ment to work more closely with pri­vate sec­tor con­struc­tion to pro­vide greater vis­i­bil­ity and a more con­sis­tent time-frame on the projects within its in­fra­struc­ture pipe­line to en­sure ap­pro­pri­ate readi­ness and re­sourc­ing.

A col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to pro­cure­ment is key. The re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence of large-scale in­fra­struc­ture projects, such as Cross­rail, has shown that early and close in­volve­ment of pri­vate sec­tor con­trac­tors in the ini­tial stages of a scheme tends to re­sult in bet­ter out­comes – not least for the tax­payer.

The prepara­tory work for large projects can con­sume ex­tra­or­di­nary amounts of time and re­sources. But en­gag­ing con­trac­tors early in the process, par­tic­u­larly in the de­sign­ing and plan­ning stages, pro­vides a more ef­fi­cient, cost-ef­fec­tive and less ad­ver­sar­ial struc­ture. This in­te­grated ap­proach, com­bined with con­trac­tual ar­range­ments that re­flect a part­ner­ing re­la­tion­ship, has the ef­fect of in­creas­ing shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, team-work­ing and trans­parency, and re­duc­ing over­all project risk.

By work­ing with gov­ern­ment to en­gage and de­velop the next gen­er­a­tion of con­struc­tion skills, and through adopt­ing a more col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to pro­cure­ment, our in­dus­try can play its fullest pos­si­ble role in meet­ing the UK’S in­fra­struc­ture chal­lenge and make a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to long-term pros­per­ity. Haydn Mursell is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Kier Group

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