Mark Farmer’s government-commissioned review of the industry hit the headlines in 2016 and prompted intense debate. He outlines his priorities for 2017.
Mark Farmer CEO Cast real estate and construction consultancy
What are your hopes for construction in 2017?
There is now a great opportunity to galvanise the industry into action behind a modernisation agenda. The debate created by my review, Modernise or Die, has to be harnessed into real action whether you agree with the findings or not.
We are at a crucial fork in the road that will define the future state of our industry. The one message I have tried to convey is that all of the previous discussions about change and improvement being ‘value-led’, ‘preferable’ or ‘aspirational’ are now largely superfluous.
The prospect of serious structural workforce decline over the next decade means that modernisation is now an imperative, not an option, if we are to retain a fit-for-purpose industry.
I am hopeful 2017 will see this message lead to action, not just words.
What are the top three ways construction will change in the next 12 months?
You will start to see innovation in delivering construction differently, especially in housing. The advent of major disruption from the likes of Legal & General will potentially drive different procurement and contractual structures, using high levels of pre-manufactured value that challenge conventional lump-sum site-led delivery.
I expect to see a new agenda for high-quality architecture but underpinned by much more of a challenge over what parts of a building are bespoke-designed to deliver better predictability and efficiency. Build to rent may well be a catalyst for this approach.
I anticipate the government’s influence in construction growing through policy, rather than just its direct role as a client. Government has made clear it is interested in innovation and industrial strategy and I think this will play out in more general support that enables us to do more with less.
Which sectors / areas will you be focusing on in 2017?
Cast is a residential sector-focused business and, where appropriate, we are looking to leverage innovation in delivery models and use of technology. This was always the backbone of Cast’s business strategy and I believe will be borne out for the reasons stated above.
Brexit: good or bad for construction?
Brexit obviously represents a huge risk to construction in terms of future flows of European Union labour. The reliance on this component, especially in London, is huge. Turning this tap off – or, in a worst-case scenario, losing what we already have – could accelerate the workforce shrinkage.
The upside, if there is one, is that the seriousness of the industry’s issues are amplified, so hopefully it will be a further catalyst for change.
What were your high and low points of 2016?
The high point was undoubtedly getting my review over the finishing line after nine months of hard slog. It has been a massively fulfilling exercise which has made me think about the industry and its future in a completely different way.
The low point was the EU referendum, for the reasons stated above and the wider risk to UK plc. We must, however, now get on with it and react positively to the challenge.
Mark Farmer is CEO of Cast Consultancy