Construction Playbook creates ‘new foundations’ for whole industry

The Construction Playbook sets down what the government considers to be commercial best practice and describes reforms in how contracting authorities and the construction industry should work with each other.

The 83-page document*, full title The Construction Playbook: Government guidance on sourcing and contracting public works projects and programmes, sets out 14 key policies, including the use of longer term contracts, early supply chain involvement, focusing on desired outcomes  rather than input specifications, benchmarking, digital technologies and risk allocation.

Projects will be bundled into portfolios with longer term contracts, with the aspiration of improving the visibility of revenue and lowering costs.

There are to be more standardised designs, systems and materials for similar types of building, promoting offsite construction for building components.

The new rules set down in the Playbook are mandatory for central government and arm’s length bodies (ALBs) unless they can give a good reason to ignore any of them – a ‘comply or explain’ basis, the Cabinet Office calls it, recognising that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for all public works. The wider public sector is ‘encouraged’ to take account of the Construction Playbook. It applies to all new projects and programmes from today.

Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisolm writes in the foreword to the document: “The construction sector is key to the UK economy. It contributed £117bn to the UK economy in 2018 and supports over two million jobs. We will continue to strive for a world-class sector – improving productivity in construction safely, delivering skilled jobs across the country to level-up the economy and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisolm
Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisolm

“This vision will only be achieved by working together and setting out clear requirements to reform the industry. Government leadership is crucial and we need to align our efforts with the sector to ensure actions are consistent and reinforcing.

“The Construction Playbook is the result of extensive collaboration from across the public and private sectors to bring together expertise and best practices. It builds on the recently published National Infrastructure Strategy and supports the government’s ambition to transform our infrastructure networks over the next decade and beyond so we can build back better, faster and greener.”

There are high hopes riding on this document, judging by industry reaction.

Andy Mitchell, industry-side co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said the Playbook “aims to embed a new approach to the procurement and delivery of construction projects and programmes, which is more collaborative, engages the whole supply chain, encourages investment in innovation and skills, and supports a more sustainable, resilient and profitable industry, capable of delivering higher-quality, safer and better performing built assets for its clients”.

He continued: “It will create the foundation for a new approach to construction, where we can utilise digital and offsite manufacturing technologies to increase the capability of the industry, and accelerate the delivery of built assets. It will also aim to deliver a better and fairer industry, with stronger and more open relationships between the industry and its clients, fewer disputes, and more equitable contractual terms, that ensure prompt and fair payment and a balanced allocation of risk, where these are managed by the organisation best placed to do so. Finally, it will help ensure that investment in construction projects creates the greatest economic, social and environmental value possible, and contributes to the delivery of strategic policy objectives such as our legal obligation to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 and levelling up across the UK.”

He added: “But publishing the Playbook is just the first step in the process. For real change to happen, it is important that both government and the industry embed the principles of the new approach, and invest in their capability to deliver this.”

Others expressed equally high hopes.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “The publication of the Construction Playbook is the result of substantial collaboration over the past few months across both the public and private sectors to share learning and best practice.

“The principles of the Playbook have already started to become embedded in new projects and programmes and CECA looks forward to its roll out across the whole of government.

“There will be a three year implementation programme to embed these processes and drive improvement within the public sector. While we recognise that there is a no one size fits all approach, the establishment of the principles of the Playbook will be strongly promoted by the government.

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“Only by working together can industry and government can drive long lasting change, improving the delivery of the UK’s infrastructure and providing value for money for the taxpayer.”

In a joint statement, BAM Construct UK chief executive James Wimpenny and BAM Nuttall chief executive Adrian Savory said: “Great buildings make a great difference to people, whether someone’s learning in school, receiving treatment in hospital or at work. But the way buildings are commissioned means they consume too much time, money and carbon, and the sector has seen too many companies collapse into liquidation.

“The same can be said of the infrastructure sector. Critically, the UK government is now saying that it wants the sector to be more profitable. Too many companies have failed, and jobs lost, because the risks firms have taken on were too high for the wafer-thin margins made. That has to change and BAM welcomes the government’s recognition that using longer term and fairer contracting arrangements, so companies in the sector can make a proper return.

“The new Construction Playbook promises a better future as long as its principles are adopted. One company and one client can’t do this on its own and we encourage all clients, the contracting sector and the supply chain to get behind this.”

CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie said: “Business welcomes the publication of the Construction Playbook, developed in close partnership with industry, which marks an important milestone in government’s efforts to overhaul procurement of public sector construction.

“The Construction Playbook addresses many of the contracting challenges that CBI members and industry have long known lead to problems when it comes to delivering projects on time and on budget. 

“The government is construction’s biggest client, meaning a sea-change in the way it buys from the construction industry is critical to spreading better practices across the sector and through the supply chain. 

“To maximise its impact, the principles and guidance in the Construction Playbook now need to be rolled out across the public sector quickly. Adopting the Playbook’s ‘comply or explain’ principle, all public sector procuring bodies should plan to implement and embed the best practices within the Construction Playbook over the coming months.”

Skanska UK chief executive Greg Craig, who is also chair of the CBI construction council, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to transform our industry. We know the new policies and approach will help to deliver safer, faster and lower cost outcomes for customers, with lower carbon impact. The way to make this work is for every tier of the supply chain to adopt and apply the key principles within their own sourcing activities.”

Jon Kelly, strategic growth director for consulting engineer WSP, said: “Today’s launch of the Construction Playbook confirms the shared ambition between our industry and government to leverage the power of construction as a catalyst for change and progress, both in terms of process and outcomes.

“By promoting modern methods of construction and ensuring their adoption in public procurement becomes the norm, government gives the private sector the confidence to continue investing in these innovative solutions and redouble its efforts to deliver measurable social value, in line with the announced framework.

“By placing net zero at the heart of the Playbook’s philosophy, government makes it clear that companies like WSP who go above and beyond to deliver such outcomes in all our projects will be rewarded.

“On the whole, the Construction Playbook should be welcomed as a game changer in the way public and private sector collaborate, as illustrated by the close collaboration over months which led to its publication today.

“And while it is not the silver bullet that will solve all challenges associated with upgrading our public realm and infrastructure to be fit for a net zero, inclusive and resilient 21st century, it certainly is the catalyst the industry was hoping for and the public deserves.”

* The Construction Playbook: Government guidance on sourcing and contracting public works projects and programmes:

Download the document as a pdf at assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/941536/The_Construction_Playbook.pdf

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