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What’s new in the UK’s updated Construction Playbook?

05 September 2022

Steve Lee explores the changes to the Construction Playbook and how to embed the principles into the industry. 

What’s new in the UK’s updated Construction Playbook?
The Construction Playbook aims to enable faster and greener infrastructure delivery.

‘Red warning for heat’, ‘national emergency’, ‘only travel if absolutely necessary’, ‘tarmac melting’.

Our homes, offices and infrastructure were recently in the spotlight over their (lack of) ability to cope with more frequent weather extremes.

The Construction Playbook seeks to meet the everyday, yet rapidly changing needs of people that use public infrastructure.

The Construction Playbook was originally published by the Cabinet Office in late 2020.

It sets out principles and policies to reform the way public works, projects and programmes are assessed, procured and managed.

An updated version of the playbook was published today, developed in consultation with expert ICE members.

The update maintains the focus on the original 14 policies while updating guidance and implementation.

What's changed?

There have been updates to five key themes in the playbook:

  1. Digitalisation

    The playbook remains committed to driving efficiency in construction through digitalisation.

    The update reflects the progress made in information management and modern methods of construction (MMC).

    This includes the requirement for government departments and arm’s length bodies to set targets for the use of MMC in the delivery of projects and programmes.

  2. Sustainability

    Sustainability was already a thread running through the entire playbook.

    The update includes benchmarking data of greenhouse gas emissions and social value (plus cost and schedule), supported by a new Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) benchmarking hub.

    This further embeds sustainability at each stage of business case development.

  3. Building safety

    The Building Safety Act, which became law in April 2022, is now referenced in the playbook.

    The playbook now includes: accountability for safety through the lifecycle of a building, advice on embedding the right behaviours, and guidance for those involved in projects and procuring buildings.

  4. Frameworks and contracts

    Last year, the UK government commissioned "Constructing the Gold Standard" (also known as the Mosey Review), an independent review of public sector frameworks.

    The Mosey Review set out 24 recommendations that were closely aligned with the requirements of the Construction Playbook. All recommendations are endorsed in the playbook update.

    It’s worth drawing attention to recommendation 1, which directly relates to measuring the playbook’s implementation on a 'comply or explain' basis.

  5. Contract management

    It’s considered best practice for those delivering contracts to get involved early in the procurement stage.

    The Environment Agency promoted this more than 10 years ago to deliver better capital projects.

    Having the right team and skills involved at the right stages is further emphasised in the update. This is a feature of another IPA toolkit, the Project Initiation Routemap.

How do we further embed the playbook into the industry?

There has been broad agreement that the playbook is a valuable tool, something emphasised in an ICE Presidential Roundtable held in December 2021.

However, there’s more that needs to be done to embed the principles.

Three ways to do this are:

  1. Increasing awareness and take-up

    There’s good awareness of the playbook across central government departments and their arm’s length bodies, but this declines as you move further out.

    Use of the playbook has yet to trickle down to SMEs and regional governments. More promotion and communication are needed, led by the IPA.

  2. Rewarding innovation

    The playbook endorses innovation at the outset of projects and programmes.

    Innovation often requires an open mindset and acceptance of risk.

    The playbook could go much further in encouraging clients, industry and the supply chain to adopt new ideas through examples of risk and reward models.

    More of the 'how' would go a long way to delivering this ambition.

  3. Setting out examples

    It’s still early days, but we need greater evidence of the benefits of the playbook in use.

    This will help those who are only just starting to use it.

    Transitioning to using the playbook doesn’t happen overnight, and more practical examples of its use would greatly aid collective knowledge.

Time is against us to deliver transformation that enables better, faster, and greener solutions to our infrastructure problems.

The public, indeed, ourselves as an industry, don’t want excuses or problems. We want solutions that work.

I'm reminded of the great industrialist Henry Ford who said: "Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress; working together is success".

Let's use this version of the Construction Playbook to speed up that change.

Read a summary of ICE’s roundtable on improving implementation of the Construction Playbook.

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  • Steve Lee, programme manager and ICE policy fellow at Jacobs