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The new Construction Playbook – what it is and why it matters

08 December 2020

New rules on how public sector bodies must engage with the construction sector have been published, but will they work?

The new Construction Playbook – what it is and why it matters
The Construction Playbook aims to enable faster and greener infrastructure delivery

New guidance on how the public sector must buy from the construction sector has been published online today.

The aim behind the Construction Playbook is to enable faster and greener infrastructure delivery through better approaches and stronger relationships.

The rules are mandatory for any central government or arm’s length body buying from the construction sector and will begin being rolled out from today.

New construction procurement guidance - what's included

Based on the Outsourcing Playbook, the Construction Playbook has been developed over several months with industry and government collaborating through weekly workshops.

Rachel Skinner, ICE's President, represented the institution as part of these workshops.

View the Cabinet Office video on the playbook featuring ICE President Rachel Skinner below.

The playbook contains 14 main policy changes to drive the government’s agenda of 'better, faster and greener delivery.' These policy changes bring together existing commercial best practice and include:

  • Standard design to enable standard products and components, this will result in greater productivity and better whole life cost
  • Procuring based on outcomes of the intervention to ensure these, and not cost, are front and centre during tendering
  • Engaging earlier with the supply chain to develop business cases so that good ideas can come forward before tenders
  • Contracting over a longer-time period, to support industry investment in productivity boosting technologies and approaches through greater certainty of pipeline
  • Better benchmarking to understand the whole life cost, value of a project and get an estimate range of what projects should cost
  • Better allocation of risk between the sector and public buyers to mitigate risk being inappropriately managed or passed down the supply chain

Why the playbook has been developed

The aim is to set up construction projects for success from the get-go.

These changes reflect ICE advice over a number of years including work that looked at why there's often a gap between project cost and time forecasts and outturn, further work this summer looking at how infrastructure delivery could be reinvented post-Covid, and the core principles that sit behind the industry transformation movement that is Project 13.

Through all of that work, some common approaches have come to light including how to avoid guesswork on project costs and forecasts, improve the focus on outcomes from projects and drive hard at decarbonising the delivery of infrastructure.

The National Audit Office also reflected on the need for change in a recent report on learning lessons from common problems with major programme delivery.

While pockets of good practice are in place across industry, these practices are not being used in a consistent and across the board way. This is where the playbook will help, by taking a whole of government, whole of industry approach to driving change.

How the playbook will be implemented

The playbook is mandatory for all central government and arm’s length bodies (such as Highways England or Network Rail). It will be rolled out on a 'comply or explain' basis with a Cabinet Office team monitoring and guiding implementation.

Developed through collaboration between industry and government, the playbook principles are based on what both sides know will work. That spirit of working together will hopefully be maintained as the focus turns to embedding the principles.

The institution will shortly be publishing the findings of a major ICE-commissioned review into the delivery of complex infrastructure projects. It will endorse a systems-thinking based approach and will offer eight guiding principles aimed at building this capability in the profession.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers