Making the Construction Playbook a reality

Government clients are lining up to implement the key recommendations outlined in the Construction Playbook. Hannah Vickers reflects on the progress made so far.

So, as I sit here two months into 2021, one of the hot topics I am being asked about most from ACE members is from 2020. No, I don’t mean the pandemic, but rather the Construction Playbook (CPB). It’s hardly surprising as the CPB is such a symbolic publication with widespread industry and government buy in and I’m very encouraged that ACE members are wanting to unpick the detail and start supporting clients in the vast breadth of policies it covers. So, let’s look at the current state of affairs on the CPB for government clients – where are they starting from and how far have they got to go?

The Department for Education (DfE) is amongst the most pioneering trying to adopt one of the CPB’s new transformation delivery models, ‘Product Mindset’. You can’t fault their ambition but being a pioneer is a challenge. As they iterate through the different evolutions of their supply frameworks, they will encounter not only the new challenges of defining for the first time a commercial approach for the government, they will also need to ensure some of the perennial challenges around ensuring the outcome-based ambitions of the commercial strategy are borne out in the procurement and appointment process and using contract terms that reflect the balance of risk and reward.  

In a different area of social infrastructure, we have much earlier in its gestation the NHS priority hospitals programme. Industry has high hopes for this, with one of the CPB authors (and in my view one of the best commercial minds in the country) being appointed as commercial director, however the challenging environment of a highly political programme, where the client needs to partner with industry to grow the capability of the supply chain for the likely enhanced investment in hospitals, should not be underestimated.  

With the Ministry of Justice, whilst I’m not close enough to the detail to issue comment here, I’ve heard anecdotally very positive things about the prisons programme, so whilst a little under the radar this is maybe something we should be seeking out sharing the learning from.

On economic infrastructure, there are some interesting potential developments on the horizon. The approach for the design delivery partner for HS2 (Phase 2A) sets out a fundamental shift towards CPB policies compared with the Phase 1 commercial strategy but as with DfE, there are challenges on such a high-profile programme. I’d urge decision-makers to be brave enough to stand behind the CPB policies, learn the lessons on design integration from Phase 1 and take the commercial intent all the way through incentivisation, procurement and contract terms in order to give industry the stage to deliver it’s very best. 

Whilst elsewhere in rail, we have Network Rail evolving through the endearingly named ‘Project Speedy’, there are some bold, symbolic moves afoot to reform ‘GRIP’ into ‘PACE’, which could unlock the door to the industry to deliver on the embeded digital technologies chapters of the CPB by streamlining approvals and making space for innovation at the most impactful stage of the project.

Finally let’s also not forget the Crown Commercial Service, who are looking to appoint a new professional services framework later this year. This could be a huge accelerator of the CPB principles across government with the potential to provide a hugely valuable route to market for government clients and the new service lines the consultancy industry is bringing to market through digital transformation. 

Perhaps you might ask why I have set out the above looking solely as the challenges to the clients? Well, I think the reason being is that when I am asked by members about “where is the implementation of the construction playbook up to?” I’d like them to reflect on the above and also recognise that as consultants we will be engaged in all of the areas outlined above offering advice to clients. We will have a key role to play.

So, as well as the challenge for clients, as consultants, the implementation of the Construction Playbook is more than a little in our own hands too. Perhaps the question we should be asking is “What is my business doing to support the roll out of the Construction Playbook?” At ACE we’re committed to supporting and offering critical friend advice back to clients in order to help them and industry succeed.

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