Turning our attention to recovery

Some good news is expected soon from the government on Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Autumn’s political calendar offers plenty of opportunity to influence and generate positive headlines for the industry, argues Hannah Vickers.

I am writing this in what would normally be a quiet period in politics, but the Covid crisis has ripped up the rule book. Instead of being on holiday, politicians are taking the heat on the country entering recession, exam results, local lockdowns, and quarantines.

I have no doubt that the prime minister and the cabinet will be eagerly anticipating the political calendar this autumn. The budget, a National Infrastructure Strategy, Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) – and Project Speed running through them all – are all great opportunities to generate positive headlines.

As the only leading Conservative politician to emerge from the crisis with favourable approval ratings, the chancellor Rishi Sunak will relish the opportunity to once again ‘splash the cash’ at both the budget and the CSR. To what extent he will be able to do so is the obvious question. 

Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson will also want to be closely associated to the large infrastructure projects that meet government ambitions on ‘levelling-up’. With this in mind, we expect some good news on Northern Powerhouse Rail and - with elections postponed until May 2021 - in supporting the metro mayors where we hope construction’s role as a catalyst for local recovery is fully recognised.

While much of the media attention will, no doubt, be drawn to major infrastructure projects and headline-grabbing figures, we will be finding out whether ACE’s suggestions for tangible improvement and actions within the CSR have been picked up, with an eye on opportunities for longer-term reform.

The main areas of focus will be on accelerating the pipeline, building government confidence in industry’s capacity to deliver, shifting conversations towards value rather than lowest cost and unlocking the opportunities inherent to a “faster, better, greener” approach. As part of this, we will want to see how society’s ambitions on net zero can be incentivised by both private and public finance.

Building on the foundations of the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Roadmap to Recovery, we will ensure our industry remains central to the government’s thinking. As well as our role in creating jobs and growth, our strategic planning capability can help cities adapt to a post-Covid world, while our use of digital design is essential if we are to quicken delivery. Furthermore, our understanding of data will help clients make the right decisions in terms of social value and net zero.

Of course, skills will also be key and the recently launched CLC Talent Retention Scheme will not only ensure we avoid the drain witnessed in previous recessions, it will provide the strategic insight for industry-wide decisions on reskilling, the impactful use of funding and in welcoming skills from other sectors, as the recovery further establishes itself. 

The development of the Talent Retention Scheme, led by ACE, has demonstrated the power of close collaboration and we will continue in this spirit as we positively make the case to the government not only for our members, but for the wider industry.

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