£72m given to technical industry research

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The government has approved £72m for industry research into technical innovation. The Core Innovation Hub is part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, it will transform the industry by supporting the development and use of technologies such as digital design, advanced manufacturing, robotics, drones and augmented and virtual reality.

Following a nationwide competition as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the government, through UK Research and Innovation, awarded the funding to the Transforming Construction Alliance, a partnership between the Manufacturing Technology Centre, BRE and Cambridge University’s Centre for Digital Built Britain.

The increased use of technology will enable the industry to design and build faster, cheaper and more sustainably – which is exactly what we all want. Smart sensors and digital systems will be incorporated into buildings and infrastructure, so they can manage and maintain themselves – and the data they gather will enable the government and industry to make our towns and cities better places to live, work and travel in.

As an industry, we have historically been slower than others in maximising the opportunities arising from innovation. Understanding innovation’s value is so important in a fast-moving business climate where markets and technologies are continually evolving. While we have worked hard to keep up with the changes and challenges if we do not now focus on embedding innovation in our businesses and across the industry, there is a risk that we will be left behind and become uncompetitive. The Core Innovation Hub is there to ensure this does not happen and that the industry meets the challenges it could face. It will be a constant helping hand and reminder that we need to put innovation in the heart of everything we do. It plays an essential role in delivering increased sector productivity by accelerating industry innovation. It will enable businesses to develop and validate new products and manufacturing and assembly processes and will leverage investment into UK offsite manufacturing capability.

Modern technologies will be the cornerstone of construction sector reform to increase productivity, efficiency and quality of delivery. However, for change to happen, new cultures and ways of working need to be driven from the top; leaders of companies large and small need to ‘think digital’ in everything they do. Constructing Excellence in the North East are holding an event with the Construction Industry Training Board and Generation for Change about the opportunities and challenges of digital construction technologies. The ‘Unlocking Constructions Digital Future’ event on Thursday 31 January, will include speakers from; CITB, BIM Strategy, Kier and Space. The event will look at:

  • How to increase your awareness of digital construction techniques
  • Future digital construction technologies
  • The implications for construction skills and training
  • Funding available to digitally upskill your workforce.

To register for this event please contact Grace Collinson on 0191 500 7880 or grace@cene.org.uk

Procuring for Value

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Earlier this year, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) called for an outcome based, transparent and efficient industry in its Procuring for Value report.

The report outlined how the industry needs to change to improve productivity, end user satisfaction and safeguard those in the industry, providing recommendations on how government, clients and the industry can develop a brand-new approach to procurement. Bringing construction productivity up to the national average would deliver an extra £15bn of value each year. We need to get clients away from just accepting the lowest bids regardless of quality and the report suggests ways of doing that. It recommends the development of an industry-wide definition of value that takes into account more than just capital cost.

It advocates the production of new forms of contracts that reduce the role of lawyers in the industry. What tends to happen is that most companies hand over the responsibility of administration of contracts to legal advisors with an enormous focus on the theoretical transfer of risk downwards, rather than the placement of risk. Failure to fully understand obligations under the contract, coupled with commercial pressures exerted to ignore the contract (payment terms being the best example of this) create a very uncertain landscape in which some construction activity takes place. The lack of contractual recognition of the whole-life value and the failure to incorporate whole-life risks mean that there is a growing view that current industry forms of contract will not meet future requirements. Contractual models need to be versatile enough to accommodate changes in the sector such as offsite manufacturing, BIM and other advances in technology.

This is the perfect opportunity to make the next generation of contracts cloud based. A contract that creates a living set of priced risks where every relationship has transparency. We need to investigate how contractual forms within the built environment can become digitally enabled and SMART-cloud based to introduce transparency and whole-life project focus.

Based on how the industry has always delivered, the current forms just won’t facilitate innovations, so something needs to change. Construction needs to change. Ann Bentley urges ‘every rung of the supply chain to take responsibility and understand their impact on the industry and the larger financial picture that is at play’ and the report highlights as an industry how we can do just this.

The report builds on the 2016 Farmer Review and proposes steps to implement the construction sector deal by extending existing government policy and industry best practice.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are holding an event on Procuring for Value, looking at the report and what the industry can be doing. It will feature talks from Ann Bentley, Global Director at Rider Levett Bucknall, and Procuring for Value lead for the Construction Leadership Council and Rob Charlton, CEO, Space Group.


To register for this event please contact Grace on 0191 5007880 or grace@cene.org.uk

The Rising Threat of Fraud in the Industry

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Over the last few years, the rules surrounding the Construction Skills Certification Scheme card have changed a lot, which means the way fraudsters are working have changed a lot too.

Before 2014, the procedure for obtaining a construction skills card bearing the CSCS logo was relatively straightforward. You could go to the CITB test centre, sit their health, safety and environment test, pass the test and have a card within 48 hours. But as the rules have changed, going as far as chips and ghost marks as well as requiring qualification certificates to be sent into CSCS as part of an application, fraudsters have evolved.

The CITB fraud team have stepped up their search recently as the industry is being targeted more by human traffickers and organised crime rings, due to it being relatively low-risk but high reward. On most of the cases the CITB fraud team are working on, they found that perpetrators using counterfeit skills cards and qualifications often have ties with organised crime groups that are linked to trafficking and modern slavery. One ongoing case has shown that facilitators are making £50,000 – £60,000 a week on this type of activity. There have also been instances where illegally trafficked people found to be in possession of fake cards will admit they didn’t take the test and they sent their photo as part of a package before leaving their country of origin. It really is as organised and calculated as that, and it needs to stop.

It is currently difficult to estimate the number of individuals working with fraudulently obtained skills cards, but the CITB fraud manager, Ian Sidney, believes it is only a small proportion. However, even if it’s just 1 or 2% that’s still too many, that’s hundreds or thousands of people who aren’t trained and are putting themselves and others in danger when working on site.

Clearly, this is not an issue the industry can tackle alone, but there are ways in which we can help. Cards can now be read electronically, something all site managers should be doing. This will alert them to a situation where fraud has been detected and a card cancelled. I understand that a lot of sites still operate with a visual inspection, but that’s where things need to change. We’re all creatures of habit but if it’s going to help with bigger criminal cases, it’s something we need to be doing to protect our industry. The way in which CSCS operates has been radically overhauled in the last seven years and we should be moving with them. The CSCS are now in a position where pretty much all cards are being issued on the basis of a qualification and by 2020, they all will be – so with more effort from industry workers, we should definitely see a change in the next few years.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

The Skill Mill – giving young offenders a second chance

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Research shows that ex-offenders who manage to find employment are less likely to re-offend. Given the skills shortage, our industry could be an ideal place to teach them the skills they need to get into employment.

There are a number of programmes across the country looking at young offender intervention, and The Skill Mill is one that was home-grown. It started here in the North East and has since grown around the country. The Skill Mill is a Not for Profit Social Enterprise providing employment opportunities for young people aged 16-18. It was established to combine the provision of high quality and cost-effective outdoor work with maximum social impact.

The young employees undertake accredited training and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. They acquire knowledge and skills by working alongside local private contractors and partners. The first site was set up in Newcastle in 2014 and has since expanded to Liverpool, Leeds, Durham and North Yorkshire. Each site takes on four young people for 6 months, paying them minimum wage. It gives them real work experience, a nationally recognised qualification and further opportunities for progression at the end of the programme.

Workers are selected based on a combination of attitude, skills, punctuality and vulnerability. It’s not the usual case of choosing those who is right for the job, it’s quite the opposite. Those who are already ‘work ready’ are not selected; they focus on those who need extra help.

The idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached the Newcastle Youth Offending Team about cleaning up local waterways, and from that, The Skill Mill was born. It mainly undertakes water and land-based management, helping to reduce flood risks and improve the local environment. Since then, they’ve been commissioned to undertake several projects across the North East. Newcastle City Council commissioned them to protect a low-lying area of the Quayside from coming Spring Tides. The team-maintained culverts around Newcastle, clearing them of silt and other blockages, reducing flood risk and ensuring the structures were accessible for inspection by the Newcastle City Council engineers. The team have also replaced all the wooden sides of the flower beds and planters around Merchants Wharf, a job that was well received by local residents.

There is a 11.5% reoffending rate among those who have already taken part in the programme and when you compare that to the national reoffending rate of 42.2%, it proves it really is working. The end goal is getting all participants into full time employment. Across the five sites in England, from the last cohort of 20 young people, all went on to find employment after the placement ended.

A further six sites are launching next year around the country, funded through a social impact bond from the government’s Life Chances Fund. I’m looking forward to seeing how many more people benefit from the programme and in turn, how the industry benefits from the new talent pool.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

Our Ecological Responsibility

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Eco-friendly, or ecological, construction is building a structure that is beneficial or non-harmful to the environment. Solar power, water-saving appliances and ‘green’ buildings are all terms we’re familiar with, but now wildlife-safe design is receiving more attention than ever before.

Everything from bats and badgers to nesting birds and invasive non-native species, can be found in and around construction sites and land designated for development. Any of these can put a stop to a project or jeopardise planning permission, so it’s important surveys, assessments and mitigation measures are taken. The term ‘protected species’ refers to species that are protected by legislation. The Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act make it an offence to intentionally, or recklessly kill, injure, or take a protected species, or damage, destroy or obstruct access to structures or places used by protected species for shelter, breeding or protection.

The industry inevitably involves disturbing existing sites which can impact the ecology. Most development proposals will have the potential to impact on the local biodiversity of the development site either through the direct loss of habitats, the reduction in the value of the habitat or the ability of the habitat to support the species that depend on them. Ecological surveys identify the habitats and/or species that exist within an area at the time of the survey. It is important to ensure that protected species are identified as early as possible in the development of a project, when it is straight forward to accommodate any necessary changes or constraints. It also adds time to a project, so it’s best to identify them as early as possible. After carrying out assessments, if wildlife is identified then they require relocation before any work is started.

During the recent restoration of Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Datim Building Contractors employed a range of initiatives to manage the habitat supporting the wildlife living on the exposed castle and crag. The team considered the findings of weekly ecology surveys and were able to adapt their work to accommodate recommendations from the surveys. A breeding pair of barn owls took advantage of the perfect conditions created by the covered scaffolding to rear two broods of chicks. Once the birds had fledged, Datim even built a ‘swiss chalet’ nestbox to continue to provide shelter for the birds once the scaffolding was removed, enabling the works to continue.

I’d like to think we’re an industry that takes its ecological responsibility seriously, protecting the local wildlife and eco-system wherever possible, so although its legally our responsibility, it’s something that we want to do as well. We all have the same goal, to complete projects as quickly and as efficiently as possible, with wildlife moved to new, safe home where needed.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

01/11/18 Final Budget before Brexit

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced his latest Autumn budget, the last before Brexit. Within it was plenty of news for the industry, with housing, apprentices and infrastructure all being mentioned, but being announced so close to Halloween, did he deliver a trick or a treat for the industry?

The Chancellor announced that the government have committed an extra £500m of funding to the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is expected to unlock 650,000 new homes. Although £291m of which is set to go to London, that’s still over half to be shared around the rest of the country – fingers crossed for some for the North East. He said the fund would receive a £38bn boost by 2023/24. I’m not usually the pessimist but that’s a lot of money in a short space of time, so I won’t hold my breath on that just yet. He also announced that the Letwin Review, the investigation into why the UK isn’t building enough homes, recommends reforming the planning system to speed up building, but there are no plans to act upon the suggestion – another case of all talk and no action.

Controversial PFI and PF2 contracts, under which private companies provide public services and infrastructure, are to be completely abolished. All existing contracts under the PFI and PF2 system will be honoured but Hammond said he would never sign off on a PFI contract.

Addressing the newly introduced Apprenticeship Levy, the Chancellor confirmed that smaller firms who train apprentices would have their contribution to the apprenticeship levy halved, falling from 10% to 5%. Apprenticeship starts have plummeted over the last year following the introduction of costs to small firms who want to get young people into work. Dropping the proportion of apprenticeship training costs footed by small firms is a much-needed development which should lead to even more apprenticeship starts.

The Budget briefly, and I mean briefly, mentioned how Brexit will affect the industry, stating that “The government will review its existing support for infrastructure finance, to ensure that it continues to meet market needs as the UK leaves the EU.”
Overall, it was a Budget that made some small adjustments but

lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. While austerity may be coming to an end, it certainly hasn’t ended. While we might have been promised less potholes in the road, with Brexit looming, I think we’re all in for a bumpy year ahead.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

25/10/18 Preserving historic buildings is more sustainable than building new ones

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

In the North East we are lucky to have such a rich history. Whilst our historic environments and buildings are undoubtedly fantastic to look at and explore, they contain within them knowledge and evidence of skills from centuries ago. Which is why rebuilding, restoring, maintaining and upgrading sites and buildings of historical importance is essential to understanding our nation’s heritage. As an industry we have a responsibility to help people to enjoy and learn from these environments now and preserve them for future generations.

We’re often talking about how the industry has upped its game in terms of technology over the last few years, but for almost every piece of new tech, there are energy-efficiency lessons to be learned from historical buildings. Existing buildings can often be energy efficient through their use of good ventilation, durable materials and spatial relationships. Before air conditioning, structures used passive environmental control from cross-ventilation windows to shutters and bricks that helped keep out the sun. The high thermal mass of stone, as seen in most Victorian buildings, retains warmth in winter and cools in summer. When properly renovated or restored, old buildings can use less energy than modern buildings, even those that are ‘sustainable’. We must ensure we learn from the past and use appropriate methods and materials to secure their future in the most sustainable way. Preservation and restoration are the ultimate form of recycling. It helps reduce waste and ensures that buildings work in the way in which they were designed.

Here at Constructing Excellence, we understand the importance of preserving and maintaining historic assets. It’s an important part of protecting the character of a city, making it an attractive place to live, work and visit. Which is why we dedicate an award to the Preservation and Rejuvenation of buildings each year at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards. The category is one that holds a special place in my heart as it focuses on restoring and preserving the history and culture of the region, something I’m very passionate about.

We are hosting a breakfast briefing on Wednesday 7 November, looking at the restoration of North East buildings and structures. The event will feature speakers from Sunderland City Council, Datim Building Contractors and Space Architects looking at the restoration of Roker Pier, Lindisfarne Castle and the Darlington Hippodrome; some of the biggest restoration projects in the North East in the last couple of years. All three cases studies were shortlisted at our awards earlier in the year, with Lindisfarne Castle winning, Darlington Hippodrome taking away the highly commended award and Roker Pier receiving a Special Award.

To register for this event please contact Grace on 0191 500 7880 or email grace@cene.org.uk

18/10/18 Drugs and alcohol on site

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Over recent years, alcohol and drugs misuse has been an increasing issue in the industry and although the majority of contractors and suppliers now say that they carry out regular tests, it seems that there’s still an issue, although we’re lacking data to back it up.

It goes without saying that when working in the industry, concentration, co-ordination and being of sound mind is critical to both the safety and success of a project.  Accidents caused by impairment or intoxication can be detrimental to the health of workers, but also to the reputation of the workers and company. Implementing a drug and alcohol policy and enforcing it with drug and alcohol screening is one of the only ways to reduce these risks. Due to the large machinery and tools used in a construction project, there are few industries where health and safety is more important.

A survey carried out last year by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) revealed that despite 35% of people saying they had noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol during working hours, 65% said that they had never been screened or tested for either by their employer. I’m sure most employers are aware of the risks, but maybe they aren’t sure what to do about it? The CCS has launched a new programme to help employers tackle drug and alcohol issues in the industry. The organisation has launched an online Drugs and Alcohol course focusing on how contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and clients can take practical and effective measures to protect their employees. The course aims to provide a platform for the industry to learn about the risks as well as methods to manage them and support those who need it. After taking the lessons online, companies can take a quiz. If they answer more than 70% of questions correctly they will pass the course and receive a certificate.

What does worry me is that the only piece of major research on how the industry is affected by drugs and alcohol is now over 2 years old. The figures were alarming enough back in 2016, but now we don’t know whether the issue is getting better or worse. Without new figures it’s unlikely that people will take action. Just last month, Barratt Developments announced they had introduced random drugs and alcohol tests as a way of focussing more on health and safety after their injury rate increased by more than a fifth last year. It’s time for the industry to take control of drugs and alcohol on site, but I do believe we need more figures and data to know where action is needed. Until then, I think we need to make sure we’re all doing the best we can to ensure health and safety on site is a top priority.

The CCS online course is available on the CCS Best Practice hub and offers lessons on drugs and alcohol in the workplace and what can be done to address misuse.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

11/10/18 How freelance construction effects the industry

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

A Freedom of Information request recently revealed that 1.12 million construction workers were paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) in 2017/18. A 4% increase on the figures for 2016/17, indicating self-employment is on the rise.

The subject of self-employment has been the cause of many industry discussions over the past few years, with several debates over whether freelancers are helping or hindering the industry. I think self-employed workers can help the industry by relieving companies of the pressures of meeting deadlines and recruiting new workers, however, as an industry we must ensure our whole workforce is treated fairly and with respect.

A flexible workforce is a great way for companies to meet project demands. With government targets approaching, companies need to be able to hire the right number of people, with the right skills, at the right stage of the project and using freelancers can help them to do this. Using self employed workers can also help boost productivity. With full-time employees, specialist work can be slow and expensive, whilst taking on freelancers means companies can use people with highly-specialised skills and also avoid unused downtime, which can result in huge savings on labour costs.

Sadly, false self-employment is always going to be an issue which adversely impacts individuals and, importantly, the reputation of our industry. There are a number of reasons some companies claim people are falsely self-employed; National Insurance Contributions (NICs) can be avoided and individuals can also make tax savings. However, self-employed people lose their right to sick pay, holiday pay and pension contributions which can create inequalities in the way people working alongside each other are treated.

Ask anybody from the industry and most will be able to give you an example of a contractor who has been hauled to an employment tribunal facing a claim for employment rights from a supposedly self-employed contractor. There have also been concerns about companies using the uncertainties around the rules to exploit workers, disguising the true nature of a contract and unfairly leaving the worker without proper benefits or payment. It has rightly been labelled a ‘con’ by some people, with the union Unite declaring that the government has failed to reduce such bogus self-employment which is very worrying. The rules surrounding self-employment need to be made clear and although there are a few who exploit the uncertainty, there are many who simply don’t know where they stand.

Freelance construction workers seem to be increasingly in demand, due to a ‘pay per project or task’ model now being used by many employers. Offering the chance for more flexibility and increased productivity, freelancers look set to play a vital role in the industry in the future. With nearly half of workers already being classified as self-employed, self-employment is going to have an effect on the future of the industry, therefore we must ensure the regulations around self-employment are made clear to everyone.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

4/10/18 – Getting comfortable with BIM

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

It’s been over 2 years since the government’s Building Information Model (BIM) mandate came into effect. From 4 April 2016, the collaborative use of BIM Level 2 in all government procured buildings became mandatory, with all asset information relating to a project becoming electronically shareable in a common environment – which basically means that projects using Level 2 BIM, at a minimum, are using 3D CAD models that have been developed by each design team and then these models must be shared in a common file format.

BIM has been identified as a key enabler on the construction sector’s journey to becoming a truly digital industry. Despite this, how to get started with BIM still remains unclear for a lot of industry professionals.

So, what is BIM? BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that provides architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more effectively plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure. If refers to a collaborative method of working which is based on the generation and exchange of data and information between the various project parties. It allows more intelligent use of resources, optimisation of workflows and leads to productivity and profitability. It allows all interested parties to assess the same information at the same time, whether you’re on site or at a desk. All in all, leading to better outcomes through more effective communication and collaboration – a win win!

If you don’t know where to start or feel you’ve been left behind, The Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) North East, in association with Constructing Excellence in the North East and BIM Strategy, are hosting an event designed to close the knowledge gap and make BIM easier for businesses in the North East to both adopt and benefit from. The daylong event will:

  • Focus on several key BIM projects
  • Explore and share knowledge and experience of using BIM
  • Help you really understand what BIM Level 2 means in practice
  • Look at how to use BIM concepts from the perspective of; clients, project teams, facilities management
  • Identify where to find world-leading expertise here in the North East.

The event will have key speakers from clients and industry covering all aspects of the BIM journey from project inception to FM including; John Adams, BIM Strategy, Iain Garfield, Newcastle University, Simon Lewis, Womble Bond Dickinson and Graham Kelly from BIM Academy.

The event is ideal for those in the industry who are looking to adopt BIM into their organisation or for those who want to progress with BIM and aren’t sure where to go. There’s no need to panic, BIM really isn’t as scary as you think.

For more information or to book your place for this event please contact Leanne Conaway on 0191 500 7880 or leanne@cene.org.uk.