3rd June Journal Column

By John Dickson, chairman of the Owen Pugh Group

The civil engineering sector and academia have joined forces to launch a project designed to provide students with a hands-on construction experience, The Constructionarium North East.

The project is set to launch at the Owen Pugh Group’s Marsden Quarry site in South Tyneside on June 27th and will see 24 students from Newcastle University, Newcastle College and TyneMet College team up to construct scaled down versions of the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, a distinctive modern arched structure, over the five days.

Inspiration for the project came from Constructionarium Ltd, a Construction Industry Training Board based project in Norfolk, that enables colleges and universities to link with the industry to ensure students are able to apply theoretical construction knowledge in a practical, safe and relevant environment. Over the years’ participants have constructed bridges, dams and other civil engineering projects.

With the Marsden Quarry site providing an ideal working environment and with strong support from the education sector, their project partners, Northern Counties Builders Federation (NCBF), the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and Owen Pugh, the pilot project was given the green light.

It’s great that the go ahead has been given to deliver the pilot in the North East. The project will help to bridge the gap between classroom learning and practical site delivery, which I think is essential when preparing students for working in the industry.

The project will be overseen by a team of experts from the original Constructionarium project and civil engineering professionals from Owen Pugh.  The students will be split into groups of varying abilities from a range of academic disciplines, to create their own 4m long Millennium Gallery which will be showcased at the end of the week.  Students will be assessed throughout the week in everything from management, finances and delivery of the project itself from setting out the foundations through to assembly.

The launch of Constructionarium North East adds to the growth of the very successful Constructionarium project. The students, who have to make all the decisions during the week, undertake all the tasks required to build a scaled down version of an iconic structure. By working with industry professionals in a safe environment, the students will get a genuine taste for the thrills of a career in construction.

Before the event the students will all undertake necessary health and safety training as well as teambuilding, which will be essential in successfully completing the project.

I’m hoping that Constructionarium North East will continue in the future. Project partners are calling for any civil engineering contractors and academic institutes who are keen to get involved to get in touch – after all, this is the perfect opportunity to give young people an insight into what life is really like in the industry.

27th May Journal Column

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

Last week saw the Queen deliver her speech for the State Opening of Parliament for 2016-2017. The speech sets out the government’s plans for the next few years, some of which we know might not happen, but it gives us insight into which direction we are heading.

A Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill has been announced, which is wiping the requirements for developers to carry out archaeological and wildlife surveys before starting new housing projects. Pre-commencement planning conditions will now only be imposed by local planning authorities when necessary.

The new regulations, or lack of them, will hopefully speed up the process of building new homes. A lot of the time planning conditions are overused, and in most cases, misused, with planning permission granted anyway, so it’s just a long and gruelling process to get there, meaning the process of constructing new homes is slowed right down. There are also plans to make compulsory purchase, the power to purchase privately owned land or property for public use, ‘clearer, fairer and faster’, which again will speed up the process of buying land and building new houses – which is never a bad thing!

The bill is to support the government’s plans to deliver a million new homes by 2020. For me, the idea of one million new homes sounds amazing but it is very ambitious, so anything that will help us hit that target I am fully in support of.

The National Infrastructure Commission, which was established by George Osborne last year, will be put on a statutory basis and given the task of setting out a “clear, strategic vision on the future infrastructure that is needed to ensure the economy is fit for 2050,” which is a huge step forward for the commission.

The government’s decision to establish the National Infrastructure Commission as independent from government, gives the body the ability to assess the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, identify the best way to respond, and then deliver projects that are both time and cost efficient.

The Queen also promised that the government will continue to support the development of the Northern Powerhouse, which is what we want to hear!

It’s going to be another year or so until we start to say change in the industry in the North East thanks to the Northern Powerhouse. In 2017 we’ll see elected mayors in the Northern regions and local control over housing and transport, so who knows what’s going to happen next year.

All in all, the Queen delivered good news for the industry, in particular house builders, I’m excited to see the new bills and plans put into action and see what the next year holds for the industry.

 

13th May Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve always been a supporter of encouraging young people into the construction industry and I thought we’d finally got to a place where people realised the importance our young people have in the future of our industry. However, results of the latest YouGov poll found that two-thirds of the public would not consider a career in construction, with only 17 per cent saying they would consider it.

At a time when the industry is falling short of talent, and we have a gap of 100,000 workers with around 250,000 existing workers that need retaining over the next five years, it seems we have our work cut out to change the public’s perception of the industry.

Major infrastructure projects planned for this year are threatened by the skills shortage, meaning vital works on roads, rail and energy is likely to be affected – so something needs to be done.

The survey, carried out on behalf of the Construction United group, also found that more than half of the public used words such as ‘strenuous’ or ‘dirty’ to describe work carried out in the construction industry, with only a disappointing 11 per cent describing it as ‘exciting’. Having worked in the industry for several years now, I can say first hand that the industry can be very exciting!

Most people who work in construction actually love it, we’re just not very good at expressing that message and the government aren’t doing enough to promote that it’s not all dirty work!

The image people have in their head is not a true representation of how the industry is today. We’ve come a long way in terms of technology and skills, and the generic public just aren’t aware of the reality of construction today.

It was disappointing to see that the industry isn’t seen in a particularly academic light, with 41 per cent thinking it is one of the least likely sectors to require higher or further education. The industry now has the skills and resources to train and educate, and those who have gone through apprenticeships are some of the smartest people I know.

I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people. I believe that the youth of today hold the future of our industry in their hands, so why wouldn’t we encourage them into the industry by showing them just how amazing construction can be?

If we give them a true representation of what they can expect, and what the industry is like, then we’ve done all we can and it’s down to them to decide if construction is right for them.

The government should be doing more with regards to promotion of the industry to inform parents/school career advisors and pupils that there are many professions within the construction industry, it’s not just hard hats and muddy boots.

15th April 2016 Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The looming EU referendum is already affecting the industry, despite a decision not having been made yet, and it’s only going to get worse as the referendum vote draws closer.

The government have claimed that major announcements and new pieces of legislation have been put on hold until the summer, until the decision about the EU has been made. And because nobody knows what’s around the corner, numerous contractors and subcontractor orders have been put on hold in our industry.

Smaller firms, that struggled to survive the recession, will be hit hard whatever the outcome of the vote, with experts warning that it could take a year for the industry’s workload to recover. A year is a long time to wait for work to pick back up, especially when they are only just getting over the impact the recession.

What we don’t want to happen, is for the industry to start falling behind and get off to a slow start, regardless of the outcome. We need work to carry on as normal, particularly in the housing sector, with the government’s plans for 2020 quickly creeping up on us.

What’s happening is almost a repeat of what happened during the Scottish independence poll. In the months leading up to it, the number of projects being granted planning approval fell by £234m compared to the year before.

We’ve already seen examples of the industry going this way leading up to the referendum, with the Markit results, mentioned in previous weeks, showing that the industry is growing at its slowest pace in two years.

The unpredictability of what’s to come means people are cautious and unable to make final decisions. New projects aren’t being started and companies are finding it hard to get financial backing. I understand the fear of the unknown, but the industry still needs to carry on, jobs need doing and people still need to work.

BBC research shows that business support for EU membership decreases with the size of the business. Of those with over 250 employees, 74.7 per cent are in favour of staying in the EU, but for smaller businesses, it’s only 60 per cent. Small businesses haven’t been happy with EU regulation for a long time, but unfortunately it’s smaller businesses that will be hit hardest should we leave the EU and they need to prepare for that.

Luckily the industry is in a much stronger position than it was a few years ago, and had the referendum took place then, the effects on the industry would have been catastrophic. Regardless of the outcome, I think we have the power to bounce back, maybe not as quickly as we may have liked, but I’m confident things will work out in the end.

6th May 2016 Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The construction industry provides huge social value opportunities for local communities, the local economy and the environment. Social value is the notion of a contract being awarded to a company based on the impact the agreement will have on the wider community, rather than just the price being the lowest.

The Social Value act, which was introduced in 2013, requires industry workers to focus on what they can do to create social value opportunities. The industry can provide plenty of social value, but it’s often hard to define and report, which is where the new Building Social Value (BSV) comes in.

BSV is a new, simpler way to report on the social value opportunities created through construction, launched by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) for all CCS-registered sites, companies and suppliers to use. It is influential in providing criteria around how effective contractors are in creating long term social value.

BSV will provide clients, the public and the industry as a whole with a better understanding of the extent to which a particular construction project has created opportunities for long-term social value.

Social value now plays a central role in all procurement activity and having a consistent and robust way to measure outcomes has always been a challenge, but hopefully that should soon change. Before starting the procurement process, commissioners should think about how the services they are going to buy, or the way they are going to buy them, will benefit their area or stakeholders.

This new way of evaluating can deliver a consistent approach, strengthen competitive advantage in tendering, support the planning process and enhance corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. BSV should provide the means for a third party to evaluate the social value produced by construction sites quickly.

Monitors from the scheme will visit building sites and record the social value created, using a social value monitoring checklist. They will then write up a BSV report based on their findings, so that a track of social value in regards to each company or each individual project can always be found.

Completing the report allows contractors and clients to recognise that gaining a professional, third-party report will help them to evaluate the impact of their construction sites in creating social value for the wider community.

There’s no longer a need for trial and error, maybe that will create social value, maybe it won’t – contractors will now have records of what works and what doesn’t, which in the long run will cut costs, time and impact communities more than ever before.

BSV really adds confidence, for workers, clients and the community that projects are delivering on promises to the community. Knowing a project is about more than just building a building will hopefully be uplifting to workers – knowing you’re helping something/someone and giving a little back is never a bad thing.

8th April Journal Column

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

There’s been a lot of talk about growth or lack of it, in the industry, but recent survey results show that we are growing, just not at the speed we might have hoped for. Survey results from Markit Economics and the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) survey shows that the industry is expanding at a steady pace.

Now, it might be growing at its slowest pace for more than two years but the industry is striving, and that’s all we can ask of it. Analysts did predict a slight decline for March, but the industry has proved them wrong and held steady.
If the industry keeps performing the way it is, we’re headed for three full years of growth, showing that we’ve gone from strength to strength each year since the recession.

The pace of expansion was slow throughout March, with less job creation and subcontractor usage dropping two months in a row, but the point is it is still expanding, and we must focus on that. The Markit/CIPS UK construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) stood at 54.2 last month, which although it hasn’t changed since February, it is slightly better than what analysts expected and higher than the neutral 50.0 value, as it has been now for the 35th consecutive month.

Increases in commercial work and engineering activity were both counterbalanced by a slowdown in residential building, as the latest increase in housing activity was only marginal and the weakest recorded since January 2013. Although it is disappointing to see house building growth almost come to a halt given the government’s plans for new houses, it’s not all doom and gloom, a marginal increase is still an increase!

51per cent of survey respondents did expect a rise in business activity over the next 12 months,with only 11 per cent forecasting a reduction, showing that companies do remain optimistic about their potential growth.

The industry is going to go through slow growth periods, but optimism and confidence will see us through difficult times, what’s important is that we never lose faith or give up on companies and the industry as a whole, so it’s amazing to see that over half of survey respondents were optimistic about their future.

As well as general unpredictability, the forthcoming EU referendum is, as expected, weighing on the minds of business leaders. The uncertainty of Brexit provides us with potential short term and long term impacts, but until a decision and negotiations are made, we can’t prepare for such outcomes. Hopefully we’ll be in a better position in a few months’ time and can plan for the future with confidence.
One thing to take from the survey results is the fact that PMI has remained steady against all odds, demonstrating a strong resilience in the industry and a strong foundation from which to keep building, so let’s do just that!

1st April Journal Column

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

No matter what industry you work in, there are always disputes, and our industry is no different.
The results of the third National BIM Survey (NBS) survey into construction contracts and related legal issues has cemented what we already knew- disputes are a part of our everyday working life.
Respondents included members of more than 20 industry bodies, who shared their legal and contractual experience of the last 12 months to provide an overarching view of the construction industry.
So, although disputes are consistent, the reason for such is ever changing. During the recession and tougher times the lack of work and low-value contracts only being made profitable through disputes was to blame, which is more than understandable, but now that construction output is stronger than ever, disputes don’t seem to be going away.
When asked in 2012, 90 per cent of respondents thought the number of disputes had increased or stayed the same as the last time they were asked, and four years later, the figure remains the same.
Almost half of those who responded to the survey said they had to deal with at least one dispute last year, with most (76 per cent) disputes occurring between clients and main contractors or between the main contractor and subcontractor (29 per cent). Although the severity of the dispute isn’t mentioned, disputes whether large or small have the potential to ruin relationships and disrupt projects.
I know sometimes you can’t avoid a dispute, but there are ways of reducing the severity or solving the issue, and surprisingly, the results actually gave us some promising news! 62 per cent of respondents had been involved in collaborative working in the last year, with 81 per cent believing it helped with information sharing and therefore reducing the number of disputes.
The main cause of arguments in the recent survey was found to be over the value of final accounts and the extension of time on projects – both of which could easily be resolved through collaborative working. Believe it or not, some simple communication can solve a lot of our problems.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) was introduced to address one of the major barriers to collaborative working – the lack of clear definition of responsibilities. The report suggests that the legal framework needs to evolve to recognise and accommodate the changes BIM has brought. As of November last year, only 14 per cent of those taking part in the survey had BIM fully integrated into contracts, which has hopefully dramatically increased given that the Level 2 BIM mandate goes live from Monday.
NBS has previously conducted this survey across many years, when economic climate was very different on each occasion, yet the resulting themes remain the same: the need for collaboration, the damaging effect of disputes and the often adversarial character of construction. So, although we’ve come on leaps and bounds in many aspects, there’s still a lot of work to be done to reduce disputes, and I strongly believe focusing on collaborative working is a strong place to start.

25th March Journal Column

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

The government are always promising us that they’ll improve the on-going problems in the industry, and it’s all fair and well promising to do something, but I’ve realised that when it comes to the government, not everything they say can be taken as gospel.
However, this week the Treasury updated its national infrastructure delivery plan, which sets out plans for 2016-2021, and these plans are actually set in stone.

The plan announced that the government has committed to saving £1.7bn from the cost of public projects, and hiring 20,000 construction apprentices, by 2020.

If you think back to this time last year, we were crying out for more homes, progress in terms of education and employment and new technology – and it seems like they were actually listening!
The new construction strategy published this week revealed that they’ve also pledged to roll out BIM level 3 and improve client procurement skills. It’s a fast movement for the industry, given that the BIM level 2 mandate deadline isn’t until next week, but you won’t hear any complaints from me, further improvements in technology can only benefit us, take the industry further and help us achieve further cost savings.
The previous construction strategy has been praised for the massive digital leap forward the industry has made over the past few years – it’s because of plans published in that report that we’re in the position that we’re now in in terms of BIM level 2.
The government’s commitment to improving technology and rolling out BIM was shown in the budget announced by George Osborne last week. The process for rolling out BIM level 3 has been given £15m, which tops the budget for BIM in the last parliament.
The plan also includes the latest version of the national infrastructure pipeline, which explains £425bn worth of planned investment will in injected into over 600 projects across the country. It’s so in depth that it describes exactly what will be built and how they plan to prioritise investment and work with the industry to improve delivery, so we can see exactly how the investment is being spent.
For the first time, the new strategy mentions house-building. The government has committed to releasing public sector land which will provide us with enough space to build 160,000 homes, more than 50 per cent than we were given last parliament – more improvements that are only a good thing!
The strategy plans to directly commission the construction of 13,000 new homes, and not only in London as they often are, with the first wave of homes starting outside of London, which is good news for the regions that have been desperate for new homes for some time now.
From both a personal and business point of view the new plans excite me. They’re providing the industry with what it needs to progress, and for me they have solutions to help apprentices, news homes and technology – things you’ll often hear me complaining about. The government is doing a good job of keeping me happy in 2016 so far … let’s hope it continues.

18th March Journal Column

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

2016 seemed a long way off when the Level 2 BIM mandate was announced back in 2011, but here we are only 2 weeks away from the target date. We’ve had plenty of warning about the looming deadline, so are we all ready?
From 4 April 2016, the collaborative use of BIM Level 2 in all government procured buildings will become 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.
Since the government revealed this as part of its BIM Strategy, businesses within the industry have been scrambling to optimise their BIM capabilities since it’s something that is going to impact the whole supply chain.

However, following survey results in October 2015, which showed that many firms were nowhere near ready, I fear that many companies are going to get left behind.
As with anything, you only get out of the process what you put in and, as with any project, performance and dedication is critical for success. I’m not saying some companies haven’t tried, but those that have made the effort to bring their company, along with the industry, into the digital age, are those that will benefit in the long-term.
Let’s not forget that BIM is only a means to an end – the end being more effective communication on a project through collaborative working, which in turn should help reduce waste, cost and result in better project outcomes.
Fear not! – Help is still out there for those companies that are still struggling. The British Standards Institution is launching a new website on 4 April, which will become the official home of Level 2 BIM. The site will act as the source for all standards and official guidance associated with the new mandate.
Construction News has also carried out a survey to get a sense of where the industry is on its BIM journey. The results will be published at the end of April; and will show what people actually think and how many people in our industry can actually say they meet the new requirement.
There are some great examples of organisations using BIM well and in the North East, there are numerous SMEs using the technology to their full advantage, so let’s hope other companies have followed suit on a much wider scale. The North East should be able to use this mandate to their full advantage.
We’re holding an event with Generation4Change North East on Tuesday 22 March about BIM within business, BIM case studies and advice on how to support organisations.
To register please contact Leanne on 0191 5007880 or leanne@cene.org.uk

11th March Journal Column

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

Towards the end of last year a new north east body was formed to champion the interests of SME companies within the construction sector, with the aim of stemming the tide of public sector contracts leaving the region to national firms.
Construction Alliance North East (CAN) comprises of the Northern Counties Builders Federation (NCBF), Federation of Master Builders (FMB), National Federation of Builders (NFB) and the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and, after five months of being in operation, is beginning to make significant progress.

Northern Powerhouse Minister, James Wharton MP marked the official launch of CAN, at the Ramside Hall Hotel, Durham this morning, with the event being attended by key decision makers from over 50 construction contracting companies and small, privately owned construction-related businesses, regional local authorities and other public sector bodies.

The impact of lean times faced by local companies during the recession is still evident across the industry – most notably with the on-going skills shortage. When companies are not confident about their future, or unclear about where their next contract is coming from, it doesn’t give them the confidence required to take on the additional cost of training apprentices or investing in training for existing staff, which is one of the things needed to make skills shortages a thing of the past.

Let’s hope that the Northern Powerhouse will provide a platform for demonstrating the benefits of using a regional workforce, we have many highly skilled and experienced industry workers within the region and it is time they were given the chance to demonstrate their talents once again.
Based on data provided by CAN, they represent 100,000 people employed by the four member organisations. With the backing of such big organisations, including Constructing Excellence in the North East, CAN has the opportunity and support to improve performance and shift perceptions to form a powerful voice for change.

CAN chair, Jeff Alexander is passionate about promoting the benefits of local supply chain and seeks to demonstrate to central government the talent and appetite for success that lies at the heart of our region’s industry. He says that CAN aren’t asking to have work handed to members on a plate – they merely want the chance to compete for regional contracts.
CAN aims to be a power for good in reforming procurement methods within the north east construction industry, let’s hope that this is the start of a new era for the industry and CAN’s message to central government is transmitted loud and clear.