For a variety of reasons, hardly a year goes by without the defence budget being asked for more efficiencies.
Nevertheless, despite the current well-publicised budgetary pressures on the Ministry of Defence, there remains a significant infrastructure programme to deliver.
It is clear that there is much work to be done by industry and the MoD to enable defence capability both for the department’s current plans and those yet to be drawn up for the future. Paradoxically, these very challenging budgetary circumstances make it even more vital for those involved to work more intensively and co-operatively together.
Constructive partnerships that meet the department’s requirements in a way that uses available resources to secure long-term value: that is the mantra.
This is true whether it is in support of physical defence infrastructure such as the new armed forces footprint in the UK, the infrastructure around new military platforms, or the modernisation of existing defence establishments.
Furthermore, these partnerships should also look to design resilience into new builds and security provision to protect establishments against cyber threats.
Last piece of the puzzle
Defence capability essentially is constructed from four main areas of spend: manpower, activity, equipment and infrastructure. A balanced defence programme requires all four to be aligned.
“What does this mean for the industry? Firstly, we can expect a few more interested parties around the infrastructure table”
Some years ago, the MoD delegated responsibility for spend on manpower, activity and equipment to the headquarters of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, otherwise known as the Front Line Commands (FLC). But only in the last year has the final element of capability spend – infrastructure – been passed to the FLCs.
What does this all mean for the construction industry?
Firstly, we can expect a few more interested parties around the infrastructure table. There’s the ever-present unit, station or base commander always – and quite rightly – asking for as much as can be afforded.
Then there are the FLCs – the paymaster in this new era – which are now able to direct what will and will not be funded, provided it remains compliant to MoD procurement policy. And finally on the client side is the commissioning authority – typically the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, though not always.
It is the paymaster to whom the construction industry should now look to work in partnership in the design, construction and – if the client wishes – operation of its future infrastructure.
“Modular buildings that are flexible, agile and whose designs are re-usable time and time again should be a default setting”
Admittedly this will require FLCs to increase their ability to describe and amend their requirements – and they are certainly on the case. Already they are better able to appreciate and take account of value-engineering opportunities, reduce construction costs through design or requirement adjustments, assess whole-life costs as a course of action and, if necessary, agree to requirement reductions to meet overall affordability challenges.
Helping the client
So what can the industry do to play its part in the delivery of defence capability?
Construction firms should look to save FLCs money and be rewarded for so doing. For example, modular buildings that are flexible, agile and whose designs are re-usable time and time again should be a default setting.
Additionally, just as some of the buildings in Bulford Garrison were built in the days of the horse being the Army’s primary mode of transport, new buildings need to look to a future we cannot yet imagine. The construction industry has the opportunity to work alongside FLCs and equipment manufacturers to develop capability hubs combining both military and civilian components.
In short, the industry in the new era has a responsibility to work for the benefit of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who feel the impact all too readily of the four-way funding competition.
Construction’s role is to encourage and participate in continuous, informed dialogue to understand both the paymaster’s affordability profile and to highlight what’s the possible as new techniques and ways of working are developed.
Patrick Flaherty is chief executive, integrated management services, at Aecom EMIA