The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has asked the government to “implement the Construction Playbook consistently”, accusing it of “frequently” ignoring its own guidance on best-practice procurement.
The request was one of 10 made by CLC co-chair Mark Reynolds in a letter to chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Spring Budget on 15 March. Other issues raised included support for housebuilding and construction’s net-zero transition, as well as publication of the government’s infrastructure pipeline (see more below).
Reynolds, who is also chief executive of Mace, said the Construction Playbook “drives the right type of behaviour to provide the conditions we need to enhance our productivity”, but added: “The CLC is frequently seeing the principles of the Construction Playbook ignored in practice.”
The Construction Playbook was published in 2020 and updated in 2022. It sets out key policies and guidance on the procurement and delivery of public construction projects.
The document calls for procuring authorities to favour long-term contracting that incentivises cooperation and better social and environmental outcomes; use standardised designs and modern methods of construction; and promote social value.
Reynolds said an example of the Construction Playbook being ignored in practice is the requirement for contractors to hold unlimited liability insurance on contracts. He recommended that “contracts [are] audited by HM Treasury during the business-case-approval process for consistency with the Construction Playbook”.
Last month Construction News reported that large government departments were routinely failing to use project bank accounts for their construction projects, despite the Construction Playbook saying they should be used unless there are “compelling reasons” not to do so.
In his letter to the chancellor, Reynolds also warned that “housebuilding levels could return to levels last seen in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and are forecast to deteriorate next year”.
He added that the fall “would have significant social and economic implications for the country by undermining nearly 400,000 jobs, costing over £20bn in lost economic activity, and generating £3bn less investment in affordable housing”.
The Mace boss asked the government to ring-fence any increase in planning fees to ensure they are spent in local authority planning departments and use the National Planning Policy Framework to “introduce a presumption in favour of development on small sites of up to 25 homes on brownfield land”.
He said the government should increase its housing subsidies by £9bn to £14bn to “unlock £10bn of new private sector capital for affordable housing” and support delivery of 145,000 new affordable homes a year. He also said the government should reform Stamp Duty Land Tax so it does not “disproportionately impact” the viability of build-to-rent schemes.
Reynolds also asked the government to commit to “significant investment and resource” for the Building Safety Regulator and National Regulator for Construction Products, saying the latter “should be able to successfully enforce compliance, prosecute negligence and conduct its own product testing where necessary to investigate concerns”.
Infrastructure and net zero
Reynolds also asked the government to “commit to publishing the updated deliverable infrastructure and construction pipeline within 10 days of the Autumn Statement”, or have departments and arm’s-length bodies publish their own pipelines.
He pointed out that Network North – the government blueprint for transport investment unveiled by Rishi Sunak in October when he scrapped the northern leg of HS2 – “has introduced a different set of priorities to the infrastructure and construction pipeline”.
“It is essential we have clarity on what will come to market and when, in order for us to plan, retain staff and invest accordingly,” he added.
Reynolds said the government should also publish a response to the National Infrastructure Assessment published by the National Infrastructure Commission in October and introduce flexibility in fiscal rules for infrastructure investment, while also allowing private finance to play a role.
On construction’s green transition, Reynolds asked the government to use the net-zero carbon benchmarks set to be launched by industry later this year, “to give consistency, attract investment and give industry confidence to invest”.
Pointing out that 11 million homes will need retrofitting with insulation, he also called on the government to set out a 10-year policy and regulatory roadmap for different segments of the housing market, to reassure companies there will be a pipeline of work and encourage them to invest in retrofit skills.