Strong Whitehall support for local authority spending programmes could double the amount of key public sector work in the next two years, said Nick Pollard, who took on the top job six weeks ago.
He said: “We should be looking at the frameworks which are already in place in health, education, defence and prisons – the joint procurement vehicles are there and people are familiar with them.
“The Government departments that influence local authorities have to not just give strong messages but be prepared to help them in terms of project management and get that money into those frameworks twice as fast.”
“There are existing programme management teams who can work with local authorities to accelerate spend – but they need to be tasked to do it and to challenge the industry to show they can deliver more value, faster.
“Local authorities will figure out how to bring forward money if they are given the mandate – they already have the mechanisms.”
Having taken over from Murray Coleman as chief executive six weeks, Mr Pollard said his two immediate priorities were to “run the business tighter than we have ever done before so we make the most of those opportunities which are in front of us; and use the time to start to reposition some elements of our business so when the economy does return we are better placed than our competitors.”
He said he wanted the southern division, which has heavily focused on commercial and retail and has been hit hard by the downturn as a result, to be more like its northern and Scottish
counterparts in diversifying into public sector work.
Although the company has struggled to find funding for the Olympic Village, Mr Pollard defended winning the project, saying it brought experience of high volume and high quality social housing work “that will be valuable for the business when the economy recovers”.
He said although “securing debt is still an enormous problem, we have a very strong covenant and our strength as a group with [developer] Lend Lease”.
Mr Pollard predicted that the savage downturn would make main contractors “think hard” about their internal processes and the management of their supply chain. He said it was accelerating a rationalisation of the company’s supply chain that started in the middle of the year. “We want to have better relationships and, without doubt, fewer relationships.”
Mr Pollard predicted two difficult years for the industry. He said: “Some companies which have traded on a much closer commercial knife edge will find that there will be rationalisation.
“And those companies which have been prudent, have been conservative and have been slated for it will, when times are hard, stay the course.”