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Shorter procurement cycles will result in motivated workforces and help to achieve net-zero

In our latest infrastructure blog, Jamie Crystal, a State of the Nation 2020 Steering Group member, discusses how a shift in procurement practices can help in achieving the 2050 net-zero target.

The Government has pledged to deliver an ambitious £5bn post-coronavirus recovery plan
The Government has pledged to deliver an ambitious £5bn post-coronavirus recovery plan

Only an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19 could have led to such a profound change in the way we live and work. Working from home, home schooling, social distancing and travel bans have fast become the 'new normal,' but the pandemic is also affecting our planet.

Global air pollution levels have dropped significantly since measures such as quarantines and shutdowns were introduced. The latest State of the Nation Report - Infrastructure and the 2050 Net-Zero target- published on 1 July 2020 is timely, not least because the infrastructure industry urgently needs to reform if we are to achieve net-zero in the next three decades. Achieving this will only be possible if clear, responsible and forward-thinking policies to reduce emissions are introduced.

Building resilient and innovative infrastructure

The pandemic has forced the Government to prioritise and elevate how we will tackle greenhouse gas emissions and create a more environmentally sound and connected economy; one fit for the 21st century. The Government has pledged to deliver "an infrastructure revolution," an ambitious £5bn post-coronavirus recovery plan to revitalise the UK economy. The plan focuses on accelerating infrastructure projects with investment targeted at new academy schools, green buses and new broadband, amongst other things.

Moreover, the Prime Minister announced radical reforms to redress what he termed as the “swathes of red tape” too often seen in planning laws and restrictions. New regulations will give greater freedom for developers to re-purpose redundant and abandoned buildings into new homes without planning permission, whilst dramatically speeding up the overall planning process.

We should take confidence from the Government’s commitment to “build back better”, which many consider to be the most reformative infrastructure focus since the Second World War.  This presents a unique opportunity to challenge government procurement rules and position net-zero at the very heart of procurement thinking.

I read recently that times of change can lead to the introduction of lasting habits. This has been evidenced by Sport England who cite a 100% increase in the number of individuals cycling at least once a week. In response, Liverpool Council have opened 62 miles of temporary cycle lanes in the city centre, providing more choice for those who own and do not own a car or prefer not to use public transport.   

In Germany, Angela Merkel announced the auto industry would benefit from an injection of €4.5bn to convert factories for electric car production and invest in charging infrastructure and battery research.

Bringing a new mindset

Historically, emissions reductions have not been sufficiently valued in public procurement – but this is changing. The Government now includes a score on the contractor's contribution to social value. Tender bids are still rated qualitatively but with greater transparency (and reward) as to how the selected contractor will fulfil their social value obligations.

I firmly believe that collectively we can embrace a new mindset at the outset of a construction project's life cycle. For example, improved data practices embedded into procurement processes will reduce waste, improve asset performance and reduce emissions.

We need to make procurement cycles shorter and more efficient. Processes that take months or sometimes even a year to achieve the desired outcome do not allow talent to focus on the core objectives of improving the UK’s infrastructure. 

Shorter procurement cycles will result in a motivated and energised workforce, faster delivery to the end user and provide impetus to the industry to invigorate economic growth.

Recommendations for change

The ICE 2020 State of the Nation report highlights how a sizable shift toward health and safety has supported the construction industry in dramatically improving injury statistics. Health and Safety is now firmly on the agenda of decision makers – it is time for net-zero to follow suit. That’s why the report recommends that “clients and regulated asset managers should prioritise and elevate the value of emissions reduction impacts in procurement criteria, so it is at the same level as value for money, and health and safety outcomes”.

By introducing a “contribution to net-zero” score as a quantifiable element of future infrastructure procurement criteria, the Government can effectively up the ante, a move which will create a positive ripple effect for business and major projects in particular. Major contractors can no longer work in a silo – collaborative working, embracing innovation and technology while protecting the environment will enable the sector to emerge stronger in the post pandemic recovery.       

The breakout of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has resulted in significant changes and polling shows only 9% of people want things to go back to how they were before the pandemic.

Of course, there are many uncertainties right now but there are opportunities too. If we can build hospitals within a matter of weeks and see greenhouse gas emissions plummet, I for one am excited about the possibilities for our industry.

Read the full report: State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the net-zero target.

Guest Blogger: Jamie Crystal is a Partner at EY. He was also a member of the 2020 State of the Nation Steering Group.

ICE welcomes guests to share their views about infrastructure policy issues on the Infrastructure Blog. These views are the views of the individual. If you are interested in writing for the Infrastructure Blog, please email: [email protected]. ICE reserves the right not to publish articles that have been submitted.

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