We have to be prepared to do things differently

In the second of two articles on what comes after the coronavirus crisis, ACE chief executive Hannah Vickers argues that embracing change will help make the case for a recovery which delivers for the industry. 

In my previous article, Setting the scene for a future recovery, I highlighted how a return to business as usual simply cannot be on the cards. I argued that we need to recognise that the world around us had changed and that the Covid-19 crisis has already shifted people’s expectations of the built environment.

While we’re probably at too early a stage to explore specifics, I outlined a number of ways in which we could meet the new demands shaped by our experiences of lockdown for better housing, nurturing a sense of community through supportive social infrastructure like schools, libraries and GP surgeries, as well as additional spending on local transport and digital infrastructure too.

Whatever we end up proposing will need to work within the already clearly outlined ideas and themes of this government. It will need to be carbon neutral and help the UK on its Net Zero journey, it will need to help “level up” the country to end regional disparity, and it will need to be fiscally prudent.

We cannot simply point at ‘shovel ready’ projects or uncritically add billions worth of spending on a major project to-do list anymore. As seen recently with HS2, the scrutiny of our infrastructure has never been more thorough. We will need to make sure that our ideas deliver a broad range of financial and social benefits while being both intellectually robust and, perhaps most importantly, well communicated from beginning to end. 

Finally, we will need to look at how we work. Helping to realise an overarching vision of a better society, should also include looking at how we deliver our own services. Government will have a renewed interest in delivering productivity gains, and as an industry we have yet to fully embrace the benefits of digital technology. 

We will need to explore with government how we can better deliver for society, perhaps through platform approaches and offsite construction methods, perhaps though the better use of data in shaping policy and decision making, or through new business models, or a combination of them all. We must be prepared to do things differently and help make the case that this modernisation will deliver benefits in terms of the sustainability and productivity of industry, and deliver increased value to society and the tax-payer. 

Our response to this crisis simply has to be strategic. It needs to propose solutions to some of the biggest short-term challenges we face, while meeting the needs of a society whose demands are changing, as well as creating a platform to improve how we work. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this all needs to be wrapped up in an easy to digest and compelling vision which speaks to our elected leaders and the voters they are accountable to.

Read part one: Setting the scene for a future recovery.

Hannah Vickers is chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.

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