Brexit: opportunity knocks for better procurement

Bob Ibell

Once freed from costly EU procurement rules by Brexit, the UK construction industry should embrace the opportunity to build a better system of contract procurement, says Bob Ibell, chairman of London Bridge Associates  

I am surprised that there is not more positive reaction coming for BREXIT from the UK construction industry. For me this is a time to celebrate. Does not BREXIT offer the UK construction industry and UK plc some great new opportunities and should we not be actively looking for these?

Of course opportunities have to be recognised, welcomed, thought about and grasped. To benefit from them will require some real re-thinking on behalf of the industry, government and civil service but I am sure it would be worthwhile for UK plc. 

For example what about the impact of BREXIT on procurement of our major projects, felt by many to be key to achieving cost reductions?

Freed of EU procurement rules, which some believe have cost us billions, can we rethink how we procure our major projects without the constant threat of challenges?

Freed of constraints and with justifications removed, can we rethink what type of competition adds value to UK plc?

Can we have a procurement system that allows us to work much more collaboratively and where competition is about quality, past performance and planned improvement? 

Can we devise a system that concentrates on costs not prices and where everything is open book, a system that reduces overall project costs including the many millions spent on tendering by contractors? Couldn’t that money be put to better use? 

We need to move to a system of procurement that creates a culture without barriers, so that innovation can thrive and utilise incentives linked only to reducing actual costs.

Can we have a procurement system that allows better use of our resources? We are told they are scarce, so should we not use them less wastefully? Clients who utilise lean integrated teams working collaboratively with all parties to manage risk, can bring costs down and use skills and experience effectively. 

Can we have a procurement system that encourages rather than discourages the development of skills and competence? The current apprenticeship levy proposals may be well intentioned but they are far too crude and do not show an understanding of the state and nature of the contemporary UK construction industry. Their main achievement will be to add another item to the list of overheads passed on to the cost of projects. Let’s challenge our contractors to change their ways; get them closer to their supply chains that they depend on to take on some of the risks of training the young. They should not be able to ignore this if they want to work on the UK’s major projects.

We also have to challenge our civil servants charged with spending billions of public money, many of whom might wish that BREXIT never happened. This is a time to step-up as the protective barrier of regulations is removed and real leadership is required. Perhaps now is the time to establish a body to manage our public projects more effectively but please let it not be another inefficient politically controlled bureaucracy-ridden body. We only have to account to UK plc now.

This will sound fanciful and naive to some but to others that have experienced systems like those described know it can work. The problem is getting the thinking and then the system to change.

I can hear some saying “that’ll be the day”. Well perhaps now is the day to ask ourselves, not why, but why not??

We should understand though, that for some, contemplating these thoughts just about equates with the enormity of BREXIT. It will be a step into the unknown because it will require reliance on human qualities of openness, trust, steadfastness, truth, and will require competent leadership. Now must be the time to implement some changes as we are free of the strait jacket of the, so called, single market (which for many never went beyond Dover) and find out whether our industry can really benefit UK plc.

BREXIT won’t get rid of all our problems but it is a chance to make some changes targeted on reducing the overall cost of our major projects. 

Bob Ibell is chairman of construction consultant London Bridge Associates, formerly a director at Taylor Woodrow


What a brilliant article! I notice you are on LinkedIn - why don't you publish it on Pulse so it will reach more readers?