Details of government’s long-awaited Construction Playbook revealed

Plans to reform and modernise the way construction work is carried out by ramping up the use of modern construction techniques have been published by the government.

The Construction Playbook published by the Cabinet Office sets out a range of measures it expect public sector clients to adopt in buying construction, including bundling projects into portfolios with longer term contracts, standardising design and ripping up procurement to focus on outcomes instead of cost.

muddy site

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The government is hoping the document will help construction shake off its traditional image as a muddy boots industry

The new approach is designed to help construction to lead the UK economy, which is forecast to drop more than 11% this year, out of the havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic and help hit the government’s net zero target by 2050.

It calls for public sector clients to work together to aggregate demand for offsite construction, consider using so-called “platform” approaches to building where different designs can be produced from common components, and focus on adopting common standards.

The 78-page document has been drawn up in the wake of the prime minister’s “Build, build, build” speech in the summer, in which he advocated investment in construction as the way to spark a post-pandemic economic recovery.

It follows on from Homes England specifying that housing association partners must use modern methods of construction (MMC) in at least 25% of the new homes they build funded by the 2021-26 Affordable Housing Programme. Homes England chief executive Nick Walkley said last month that the agency will continue to “ratchet up” its expectations of use of MMC.

It lays out plans for modernising construction by standardising designs and parts, as well as promoting the greater use of digital technologies such as BIM.

Jaimie Johnston, a director at offsite specialist architect Bryden Wood, said: “Modern methods of construction underpin the Playbook. The combination of offsite manufacturing and new onsite construction techniques means we can finally leave behind the crowded, dirty and dangerous construction site and build more efficiently, more quickly and more sustainably.”

Andrew Shepherd, managing director of modular start-up TopHat, welcomed the document. He said: “The report’s authors rightly point out the benefits MMC can provide in embedding digital technologies into construction. If policymakers are serious about tackling long-running, structural issues in housebuilding – such as high carbon emissions and quality issues - then encouraging companies to capture more data-led evidence will be crucial.”

Drawn up by the Cabinet Office, the department said the Playbook will give greater certainty to industry through long term plans for key programmes and thereby give firms enough confidence to plough cash into investing in new technologies to help improve productivity and efficiency.

The chair of housing association Peabody, Lord Kerslake, who also chairs procurement platform Pagabo, told Housing Today’s sister publication, Building, that public sector procurement would have to change for the industry to reform. He said: “If that doesn’t happen, there is a real risk that the sector will look to change – but find the procurement process won’t have shifted enough to allow it.”

The move was welcomed by the programme director of the Construction Innovation Hub who said government backing to reform and modernise the industry was crucial to the chances of it happening. Keith Waller added: “We need government to bring to bear its enormous buying power as a client to help us turn our transformative ambitions into a reality.”

The chief executive of contractor Bam, James Wimpenny, said the industry had to improve margins for the government’s plans to make a difference.

He added: “It is now saying that it wants the sector to be more profitable. Too many companies have failed because the risks firms have taken on were too high for the wafer-thin margins made.”

Green initiatives in the playbook include promoting the use of carbon assessments to understand and minimise the greenhouse emissions of projects.

Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew said: “By adopting the new Construction Playbook, we will help ensure that the sector becomes greener and more innovative.”

The playbook comes into force this month and applies to all public works projects and programmes including building, civil engineering, construction or equipment projects.