Five Bills, one Charles, and one Elizabeth line

This year’s Queen’s Speech offers substantial opportunities for civil engineering contractors.

The speech, delivered by Prince Charles, in his position as Counsellor of State, centred on economic growth, managing inflation and levelling up. Most importantly - for the construction industry working in the public sector – the speech announced the long-awaited publication of the Procurement Bill, which has the potential to transform infrastructure procurement for the long term.

The Bill is the outcome of a lengthy consultation process, to which the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) - via its member-led Procurement Group - developed a substantive response.

CECA is the representative body for companies who work day-to-day to deliver, upgrade, and maintain the UK’s transport and utility networks.

We are pleased to see that a number of our members’ concerns have been reflected in the Bill and we fully support its aims, which have the potential to transform infrastructure procurement for the long term.

CECA will ensure that as the Bill progresses through Parliament, our concerns continue to be reflected in the primary and, most importantly, the secondary legislation.

We especially note the importance of ensuring the Bill reflects the recommendations of Constructing the Gold Standard, the independent Cabinet Office review of Construction Frameworks, the publication of the Construction Playbook, and the Value Toolkit, all aimed at improving the delivery of construction projects.

We believe that any procurement model or route chosen must be proportionate to the scale and complexity of what is being procured, with public and private sector aligning where appropriate.

We are also interested in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will give councils additional powers for delivery, including for local infrastructure projects and roads.

A Modern Slavery Bill will be introduced, applying to firms with an annual turnover of over £36m. This strengthens the powers of the previous Act of the same name, which was passed into legislation in 2015.

A Transport Bill will support the UK roll out of more electric vehicle charge points as we continue to strive to meet net zero goals.

Finally, we look forward to the progression of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill to support the financing of our infrastructure projects.

CECA recognises that it is vital that the construction industry maximises opportunities to engage with our lawmakers as these bills progress through Parliament to secure UK economic and social growth for the long term.

The prime minister himself noted the economic benefits and job opportunities infrastructure can bring at the official opening of the Elizabeth line last week. CECA research reiterates this message, noting that every £1bn of infrastructure construction increases overall economic activity by £2.842bn.

However, the upcoming pipeline of construction and infrastructure work - which includes numerous local authority highways maintenance programmes, delivering the remainder of the second Roads Investment Strategy and planning for the third - can only be delivered efficiently if steps are taken now to manage the inflation crisis.

The crisis in Ukraine has intensified existing challenges around the supply and cost of materials, caused by the aftereffects of the pandemic, increasing global demand, and disruptions to the supply chain. This has created challenges in the availability and cost of materials, with increases of 50% reported recently for some products.

In response, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) – the joint industry and Government body – has brought together experts from across the sector to look at the options available to reduce these impacts.

While it is recognised that many of the factors driving this crisis are outside of UK business and Government control, where we can act, the CLC is seeking to co-ordinate industry effort to minimise risk and reduce the impact of inflation where it can.

The expert group has identified a broad range of policy interventions to focus on. These are: developing market intelligence about risk hotspots; publishing guidance on price inflation indexation, and commercial issues; preparing case studies on good practice in response to current inflation; continuous industry briefings on conflict avoidance; and researching long-term capacity loss from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, and impacts on sector.

HS2 works in Birmingham. Image: UAV 4 / Shutterstock.com

Further information will be published in the coming weeks. The CLC will continue to seek views from the construction sector about how the current crisis is affecting businesses across the UK, to guide and inform further action. If you have any comments please email me at marieclaudehemming@ceca.co.uk.

Marie-Claude Hemming is director of operations at CECA.

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