Thought Piece: procuring programmes of work

As the new year starts, it is a good time to reflect on what can we expect in the construction sector for 2016.

Glenn Slater, Business Development Director shares his thoughts on delivering a variety of construction projects through the East Midlands Property Alliance (empa) framework, but is also mindful of a perfect storm brewing.

“There’s been no mistaking the increase in workload from our public-sector clients. During the summer months we were incredibly busy as schools and nurseries took advantage of empty buildings to improve facilities for the new academic year and tackle the ever increasing demand on schools to provide places for children.

But with the autumn/winter months comes the Autumn Statement, further demands from central government for local authorities to make savings of 30 per cent and the recent stormy weather could be synonymous with the future of the construction industry if we’re not careful.

The construction industry is complex; we have to have good relationships with our supply chain to ensure that we can deliver work for clients when it’s needed, but how can our supply chain trust us to provide them with work when we don’t have a reliable pipeline ourselves?

I sympathise with local authorities and public-sector bodies who have their hands tied. How can they effectively plan construction projects and get best value for money with such tight constraints? They can’t – and this needs to change.

One of the easiest ways our clients can save money is to look at long-term programmes of work and allocate schemes of work in advance. This reliable pipepline of work not only means clients can minimise the impact of year on year price increases, but also that our industry can invest in training and development to tackle the skills gap.

Apprenticeship schemes last at least three years, further demonstrating the benefits that come with procuring programmes of work – no one wants to be in a position where they have to let an apprentice go after one year as there is no work or funding to support them. Furthermore it is difficult for contractors and subcontractors to commit to skills training and job creation without a reliable pipeline of work.

But it’s not just about money. Our public-sector clients have a social and economic responsibility too which they have a greater and more meaningful impact on. They are in a position to help boost the economy and what better way to do this than committing to long-term programmes of work which would, in turn, invest in the skills gap, create training opportunities and secure jobs.

That’s one of the benefits of delivering work through the empa framework. More than 50 per cent of labour and spend is within 20 miles of a project – something which few other frameworks can offer.

Growing workloads coupled with rising costs and an increasing skills shortage means we have a perfect storm brewing. If we’re being asked to deliver more work with fewer employees at rising costs, will the industry overheat? And how do we continue to invest in the next generation of construction?

The Autumn Statement could help alleviate this; one hope is that devolution might bring enough powers to local authorities to change the 12-month restrictions on budget setting and procurement. Will this go further and will we see changes across all public sector organisations?

We want to work closely with our clients to give them the best value for money and increase confidence in the market. We are in a position to help clients reduce costs and maximise spend to benefit their local area. Ironically the current year by year procurement processes do the opposite.

Something as simple as sharing their planned programmes of work would mean contractors were able to make longer term commitments to their subcontractors and avoid the potential storm that’s brewing. It’s up to clients and contractors to work together to prove that true partnership working can deliver the cost efficiencies and social value outcomes the government and local communities are looking for.”