More than 100 years ago, the British were at the height of influence for ambitious construction and infrastructure projects including housing, railways, sewers and tunnels.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway network revolutionised pubic transport, and our expertise inspired architectural endeavours across the globe. However, many fundamental building practices are relatively unchanged since the Industrial Revolution.
The construction sector reaches every person in the UK, and few sectors are as vital to our economy. In 2016, the wider construction sector, which includes contracting, product manufacturing and professional services, had a turnover of £370bn and employed around 9 per cent of the UK workforce.
That’s why it’s so important to futureproof the sector. Supported by the biggest government investment for at least a decade, we are bringing together the construction, manufacturing, energy and digital sectors to realise one of the greatest construction programmes in our history that will deliver greener and more affordable buildings.
As part of our modern industrial strategy, the construction sector deal – including a £420m joint investment from the government and the industry to foster innovation and technology development – will transform the sector, ensuring it adopts new technologies and can take advantage of the huge opportunities up for grabs in the global infrastructure market.
This deal will support the sector to achieve a 33 per cent reduction in the cost of construction and the whole-life cost of new infrastructure; develop new digital and manufacturing technologies; facilitate a 50 per cent reduction in the time taken to complete new builds; and expand innovative construction training programmes – with a 15 per cent increase in apprenticeship starts to 25,000 by 2020.
Together, these initiatives will raise the sector’s productivity dramatically, enabling the creation of buildings that are smarter, safer and cheaper.
“We will champion concepts that include developing affordable, easy-to-construct homes and schools manufactured offsite”
Our aspiration is to deliver better value for taxpayers and investors from the £600bn infrastructure and construction pipeline, including at least £44bn for housing. We will do this by delivering 1.5m homes by 2022 and major infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and upgrading the M1.
With this investment, government is committing to support the development of new materials and techniques so that buildings are quicker to put up, more energy-efficient and less disruptive to communities. We will promote the use of digital technologies at all phases of design to deliver better, more certain results.
We will also champion concepts that include developing affordable, easy-to-construct homes and schools manufactured offsite, minimising the wastage, inefficiencies and delays that can affect onsite construction.
Here in the UK we have huge potential in our construction workforce. There are already more than three million people working in the sector, but what we need to see now is a strategic approach to upskilling those workers.
“The Victorian period saw a great increase in wealth and the building of modern Britain; now we want to build the Britain of the future”
That’s why the construction sector deal earmarks £34m for expanding innovative training programmes across the country, and why we have partnered with the CITB to develop apprenticeship standards. We are also preparing for implementation of new construction T-levels by supporting the sector to offer high-quality industry placements.
Greener infrastructure is equally crucial, and the prime minister made it clear that we are on a mission to halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030 as part of the Clean Growth Grand Challenge. Now is the time to make this move and we are already making progress.
Turning into action
The Construction Leadership Council has already brought together industry professions and this sector deal builds on the work we did with them on Construction 2025, providing the framework to drive this concerted effort.
The Victorian period saw a great increase in wealth and the building of modern Britain; now we want to build the Britain of the future.
The construction sector deal will drive economic growth, create well-paid, highly skilled jobs in every part of the UK, and improve homes and buildings across the country.
Richard Harrington is the minister for construction and MP for Watford