Why we need the Consultancy Sector Futures Institute

ACE chief executive Hannah Vickers speaking at last year's Future of Consultancy conference in London.

A new industry institute will turn research into action and create a best-in-class engineering consultancy ecosystem fit for the fourth industrial revolution, says Hannah Vickers

Many will have read about our letter signed by over 20 industry leaders to the construction minister arguing for the creation of a jointly funded Consultancy Sector Futures Institute.

Modelled on the Aerospace Technology Institute, or the various ‘Catapults’ found across our manufacturing sectors, the £225m five-year programme will commercialise world-leading science for business. It will underpin a capability development programme to grow and sustain a best-in-class engineering consultancy ecosystem fit for the fourth industrial revolution, through innovation, skills and productivity improvements derived from applying different business models. 

Through live demonstrator projects, the institute will collaborate with clients supported by academia to showcase our industry’s talents - whether that’s looking at cities as systems or delivering integrated transport projects. 

The next logical step of the Future of Consultancy campaign, the institute will turn research into action and will be delivered by ACE with a number of academic partners, including the University of Salford and Loughborough University. It is currently proposed that the funding for the £45m a year programme will be split three-ways between the industry, BEIS and Innovate UK.

Our letter highlighted the solutions that the institute will offer - for society, government and industry. 

By taking a new technology-enabled approach and considering cities as interconnected systems, we can boost the productivity of the 30% of the economy that relies on the built environment to function, through our ability to shape new ways of planning, designing, building, integrating and operating infrastructure. 

We can also help drive society towards net zero. With around 30% of global energy use from buildings, it is vital we get this right. We are not proposing a tactical, project-by-project approach, but a strategic view which will also solve some of the underlying factors contributing to complex social deprivation and low regional productivity. 

Finally, we can meet the ambitions of the industrial strategy by building future-ready capacity in our businesses which, in turn, protects and creates high-value jobs. By evolving business models to incentivise investment in innovation and capitalising on our world leading reputation to create centres of excellence within global firms, we will attract inward investment into the UK and help the government meet its 2.4% research and development target.

The benefits will also be felt by members. It will mean better access to skills and retraining opportunities - from apprenticeships all the way to PHDs, support and advice for adapting to new business models, and a better return on research and innovation. It will establish new routes to market for technology-supported services and provide a level playing field for SMEs. It will encourage business models to become more sustainable, while rewarding those who add value and invest in innovate. It will support the growth of more than 400 SMEs and help them transition to a post-fourth industrial revolution world. 

This is only the beginning of this exciting journey, and there is still plenty of work, but this next step for the Future of Consultancy is one that the whole industry should welcome.

Hannah Vickers is chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.