Quantity surveyors, project managers and building surveyors gathered at this year's RICS Construction Conference to partake in discussions about value, productivity, technology, skills and standards.
The event, chaired by Justin Sullivan, Global & UK Chair of the RICS QS and Construction Global Professional Group Boards, and Founder and Managing Director of Adair Associates, was an exploration of how the sector can adapt and modernise to remain competitive and resilient in times of instability.
The keynote speech was given by Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Minister for Implementation, Cabinet Office. He stressed that the government, as the industry's biggest singular client, recognises its responsibility to drive progress within construction, and an open dialogue with the industry is a key component in this.
Mr Dowden stated that the government wants to renew the focus on deliverability, value and standards, making reference to the industrial strategy and the new rules on prompt payment which come into force on 1 September. SMEs are also high on the agenda, with each government department employing a minister who is responsible for SME issues.
The scene was set further with an economic update provided by Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at RICS. He advised that while there is much to be cautious about, particularly when it comes to Brexit, there are positives to be found. Employment in the UK is at a record level, while investment infrastructure and public housing is continuing to show strong growth.
Theresa Mohammed, Partner at Trowers and Hamlins, gave a rundown of the key adjudication cases of 2019, warning that smash and grab still exists, and offered some tips for surveyors acting as expert witnesses in construction cases.
The conversation around value was led by Ann Bentley, Global Board Director at Rider Levett Bucknall and Lead on Supply Chain and Business Models at the Construction Leadership Council, and Alan Muse, Global BEG Standards Director at RICS.
In an industry where productivity is the holy grail, making sure we procure what the client actually wants is vital. In order to do this, we must focus on identifying what value means to a client by moving away from our typical focus on capital cost by looking at the bigger picture, and then equating that to cost.
Ian Aldous, Director at Arcadis, echoed this approach when he spoke about how the industry needs to work out how to define capture, monitor and report value, questioning how we can lower cost to give more attention to value.
Off-site construction was the first panel discussion of the day, involving Alex Lubbock of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Neil Pennell of Landsec, and Robert Higginson and Alex Warrington of Laing O'Rourke.
Whilst there is not yet definitive evidence to say that off-site construction is cheaper, there are many projects to suggest that it is. The panel cited the perfect storm of an aging workforce, government investment, the need for new housing, the need to attract young talent and digital tools coming of age as the reason behind the current drive for off-site.
They noted the need for greater and bigger pipelines of demand in order to continue investment in the approach, allowing bigger companies to unlock the capability for SMEs and manufacturers to engage higher up the chain and at a far earlier point in the process.
Mert Yesugey, Project Principal at Mott McDonald, spoke about how digital construction can challenge the data silos and stagnant productivity in the industry, in turn improving inefficiency and facilitating discussions and decisions.
Alexander Catmur and Nelly Twumasi-Mensah, Business Systems Lead and Business Projects & Change Lead at Faithful+Gould offered advice on using technology, including social media, to ensure stakeholder engagement is successful.
Tech solutions were on show at the conference, with sponsor CEMAR and exhibitors Exactal, PlanGrid, Procore Technologies and SopremaUK discussing their products with delegates. They were accompanied by the University College of Estate Management.
An overview of the Thames Tideway project provided an example of both conversations around value, and tech solutions in practice. Maurice Gallagher, Deputy Delivery Manager at Thames Tideway, spoke about how the £4.2billion project is rectifying what was an unacceptable sewer network for a modern city.
Infrastructure projects are inefficient. Data exists in silos and productivity is stagnant.
Inspiration for the day was provided by Christina Hirst of CH Consultancy, winner of the David Bucknall award for work in helping people find a way into surveying, particularly through apprenticeships. Such contributions are vital to achieving the change we all wish to see in the industry.
The final panel session, involving Alan Muse, Sue Barrett of TFL, Hannah Vickers of Ace and Martin Rowark of Watling Fosse, looked to the future, discussing how the industry turns the days discussion into action. They debated vertical integration, the fair payment charter and project bank accounts, and how client organisations and contractors can better communicate and agree on business cases.
The role of institutions such was also discussed, as Alan noted RICS's bottom-up approach to standard setting, making reference to ICMS2, which is currently out for consultation.
In his closing speech, Chair Justin Sullivan asked the room: "Why is it that there is an abundance of work, a shortage of resources, yet fees are going down?" The RICS Construction Conference 2019 indicates that the answers are in our hands.
Steph edits the Construction Journal and conservation-related material for the Built Environment Journal. What she enjoys most is the skills exchange involved in editing the journals – combining the technical knowledge of the authors with her understanding of writing, language and the publishing process. Her previous experience includes work on newspapers, magazines and medical journals.