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24th March 2014
Author: Ross Sturley – CIMCIG Committee Member
At the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG) Chair’s Debate last week, the panellists all agreed that the green shoots of recovery are pushing through. Most concurred that the construction upturn is sustainable, but all felt that more can be done by the government, associations and the industry to drive the recovery on.
The panel session took place on March 20, the day after the 2014 Budget, which allowed speakers to not only discuss the nascent recovery, but also what the government had done to nurture it and the further actions it and the industry could take.
Lucy Thorneycroft of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) agreed, although she worried that we’d forgotten about the Eurozone and the problems it still faces, along with a number of other risks.Alan Wilén, Glenigan’s Economics Director, felt his analysis showed a present and sustainable recovery. Indeed he felt it was probably already stronger than official figures suggested, and would strengthen still further. Wilén saw it as a private sector-led recovery, with housing to the fore, but industrial and commercial also playing a crucial role.
Diana Montgomery, CEO of the Construction Products Association said her association forecast a 10% growth this year and next, and that infrastructure investment – should it materialise – would drive substantial growth throughout the economy.
Rudi Klein from the Specialist Engineering Contractors group agreed, going further to say infrastructure investment is essential to make the construction sector economy move. He also felt that, unless we develop a robust supply chain with cash moving quickly along it, we might struggle to benefit from the recovery, with money staying at the top of the supply chain, and risk at the bottom.
All the speakers felt that more action is needed to help this recovery grow and gain momentum. In the wake of what was generally felt to have been a disappointing Budget, Montgomery felt that the changes to investment allowances were useful, particularly in manufacturing – although Klein pointed out the increase was only temporary, and would therefore not unlock all the pent up investment that UK PLC could make.
Montgomery also called for more support for apprenticeships, but reserved her main shout to government for the Green Deal, which is floundering and in danger of total failure, and needs much clearer support. We have some of the leakiest homes in Europe, and real change is needed, she said.
Thorneycroft wanted movement on getting Britain building, turning rhetoric into real action. In particular she wanted action on access to land and pro-development planning. She also felt more explanation of the value of infrastructure investment to the general public was needed, and that HS2 was a case in point. The government has certainly not done enough to persuade the country that it is worth it.
She also wanted more done to make construction an ‘industry of choice’. Here government and industry should work together to present the modern face of construction, in the process helping address an imminent skills shortage, which will otherwise constrain our capacity to grow with the recovery. Montgomery agreed – in particular feeling that we do not publicise strongly enough the ‘good stuff’ that we have achieved.
Montgomery felt associations could help by driving forward the Industrial Strategy for Construction. This would help stitch together a coherent approach to issues around, for example, payments – which would make Klein happy, of course – as well as the original (now twenty years old) Latham agenda of an integrated team, BIM, and other key ‘working together’ related issues. The panel agreed that this would help the industry appear as one entity – a combined and coherent force for good in the built environment.
The idea of the ‘image of construction’ ran through a number of the comments and questions – and our inability to act as one industry, with one voice, was felt to be a continuing limitation. This was also the theme of our last Chair’s Debate.
A year has passed, and not much has changed on that issue. We have been distracted by staying alive through the tail end of a tough recession. We will soon be distracted by the opportunities of a strengthening recovery. Here associations need to take a lead. Without this, the issue will be back again at Chair’s Debates for many years to come.
Ross Sturley is principal at Chart Lane, a strategic communications company specialising in construction, property and regeneration, and a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group.
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