The Tory leadership campaign is narrowing, and whoever becomes our next Prime Minister will inherit a political landscape that is more challenging and complex than any I’ve experienced in my time in business.
Our relationship with the EU is receiving the most attention, and understandably so. But the to-do list after that is extensive.
The new Prime Minister has an opportunity to hit the ground running and tackle some of these issues head-on. And there is no better area to apply their newfound political capital than the construction industry, and how it can transform the UK.
While the sector makes up six per cent of our economy, its impact is felt across the whole of society. Our buildings and the wider built environment affect all of us – they change how we live, work, and spend our leisure time.
And with greater investment and support in innovation and new technologies, the construction industry can not only improve what we build, but can also make a hugely positive contribution towards the social and economic needs of the country.
Take education, for example. There is a huge pipeline of construction work that could help to replace the outdated schools that are limiting the productivity of teachers.
However, as it stands we are continuing to build schools that are much like those that have come before.
From facilities that are falling apart to dated designs that prevent the introduction of new teaching technologies, there are many problems that don’t necessarily require additional resources, but could be fixed by a new, user-focused approach to construction.
By bringing school staff into the design process and by allowing the construction of more flexible, cost-effective school accommodation that can be built faster and repurposed in different ways, we can help teachers to claim back hours they spend working unproductively to help them achieve better outcomes for our children.
Then there’s healthcare. We know already from work done by the NHS that if you design hospitals and treatment facilities with an understanding of how nurses actually work, you can shave minutes off treatments. Over time, that adds up to hours of additional capacity, and helps to save lives.
By adopting new construction and design techniques, we can make it easier to do just that – but currently the sector can’t invest enough to trigger a wholesale shift in how we build.
Other examples include better designs for our prisons, which would help to encourage rehabilitation and limit the time our hard-working public servants spend managing outdated estates, or better designed offices which enable public sector workers to work more productively, collaborate more effectively, and achieve better outcomes for us all.
This applies beyond our public services. Better buildings could transform productivity in workplaces across the whole of the UK and unlock huge growth, alongside revolutionising the construction industry and creating thousands of new jobs in the process.
The sector is ready to change, and we’re on the verge of a genuinely transformative revolution.
We’re already making progress. In July 2018, the construction sector received a £170m research and development grant from the government’s industrial strategy and construction sector deal, and in response the industry is committing a further £250m to develop solutions to improve innovation, safety, quality, and productivity.
However, we won’t be able to capture the benefits to everyone without more support from the government.
A firm commitment to a pipeline of work for radical new construction methods, alongside further funding for innovation and regional investment in offsite construction, would go some way to help us on that journey.
Whoever ends up as our new Prime Minister – and whatever the outcome of our protracted negotiation to leave the EU – a boost to public sector productivity and private sector growth is a big win that will help to ensure our long-term economic success.