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Last edited 06 Feb 2021
Delivering an infrastructure revolution
However, it is important to note, the government’s ambitions and the public benefits which come with it, can only be realised if we also revolutionise the way major infrastructure projects are delivered.
Whilst plans will be further set out at Budget, in the National Infrastructure Strategy and the Comprehensive Spending Review in the summer, industry and government must take action to begin revolutionising delivery now through existing projects and programmes. Our Pipeline of projects, as will be published in the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline in the Autumn, will depend on it.
It is the IPA’s role to catalyse this delivery revolution and I believe we will do this if we focus on the three ‘P’s: people, principles and performance:
- Ensure our people have the tools, competence and skills they need to deliver.
- Be clear about the principles of delivery and getting the basics right.
- Drive a step change in performance, together with industry, so we can meet future challenges.
I’ll start with people first as they are the most important asset we have.
We have seen on Crossrail, for example, that we must pay greater attention to systems integration. Projects which traditionally may have been viewed as solely civil engineering, can no longer be viewed as such. It is crucial that right from the initial planning phase, we understand the complex technological demands of the project and the skills in our workforce to meet them.
As we all know, the success or failure of a project is often determined in its early stages as it’s much harder to turn a project around further down the line. We need to get the basics right at the beginning and then freeze the scope. This can only be done if we get far more consistent at estimating costs and developing our benchmarking capability.
It is no secret that our issues with planning, scheduling, and costings across major projects, have meant our current performance as a whole is not good enough. Too often projects are late and over budget, and this directly impacts the benefits to the public. So the IPA will be doing more to closely support those delivering our projects, to make sure the basics are completed on every single project no matter what the scale.
We know that the construction sector is the least productive industry in the UK economy. More than 20% below the average output per hour for the whole economy in 2017. This alone shows that in order to deliver this infrastructure revolution, the industry must innovate and modernise. As industry’s biggest infrastructure client, the government has an important role to play and has considerable influence in the market.
But I believe we have to become a more informed and intelligent client, to drive the change we all want to see. It is for us to help create the right conditions and direction for, you, industry to innovate and grow.
Improving productivity can only happen if we are able to deliver using technology and modern methods of construction to our advantage. This in turn, must be unlocked by government taking decisive action to aggregate demand and enable innovation. Industry has told us that this should begin with our approach to specifications and standards.
Of course, there is excellent practice already out there. Highways England’s A14 project, has seen excellent collaboration through the integrated delivery team, efficiency savings and is due to complete by the end of 2020 as planned. If we look at Building Information Modelling (BIM), we’ve made great progress since 2011, but we need to go much further with Digital Twins and other innovations. Therefore, going forward the IPA will be driving this agenda by doing more to identify and share lessons learned where we can step up and perform better.
We plan to drive the implementation of Transforming Infrastructure Performance, an ambitious and long-term transformation programme, that seeks to address the fundamental and interrelated challenges facing UK infrastructure.
Investing in the right skills, getting the basics right and improving productivity are not new problems. But there is now fresh impetus to take bolder action to tackle them. And I am committed to the IPA taking a leading role.
This article was originally published on 19 February 2020 on the ICE Infrastructure Blog. It was written by Nick Smallwood, IPA Chief Executive.
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