Interview: Peter Hansford – industry must focus on efficiency in the face of cuts.

Peter Hansford, chief construction adviser

Chief construction advisor discusses culture change and the vital need for collaboration as construction meets the challenges of delivering the UK’s economic infrastructure.

Construction must retain its focus on driving efficiency and collaboration across the supply chain as it meets the challenge of “more and more severe budget cuts” predicted in the public sector, according to government chief construction advisor Peter Hanford

The new government remained committed to investment in infrastructure as a driver for the economy, he explained to delegates at Anglian Water’s recent Carbon and Energy Leaders conference, but pressure on the public purse meant the industry had to continue its drive towards great efficiency. 

“The challenge is to remain focused in the face of more and more severe budget cuts,” he said. “The imperative must be to reduce cost and demonstrate the value of a lower carbon future.”

The challenges set out in the Construction 2025 Industrial Strategy vision document published in 2013 still remain central to the new government’s ambition for a world class industry. But, he stressed, it must be a partnership with the industry.

Targets to hit by 2025 - cutting carbon by 50%, cutting whole life cost by 33%, reducing the time for delivery by 50% and reducing the industry trade gap by 50% - are clear, he said. And while industry is making progress towards meeting these targets “we are not there yet” he said.

The good news, he added, is that the new government remains committed to infrastructure as a driver for the economy. The industry’s challenge, therefore, is to continue to demonstrate that it is in shape to deliver the ambition.

Interview by Freya Bottom.


We have a new Tory government. What messages need to be voiced by industry to maintain infrastructure as a priority?

A consistency of policy and a continual pipeline of work is needed [by the industry]. Unnecessary change would be damaging so the government should be encouraged to build upon the good work already happening in our industry. A lot of progress has been made which needs to continue.

You say that collaboration is a key to delivering success – how will businesses benefit?

Learning lessons that others have already learnt and transferring best practices from other industries. None of us work effectively in our silos so collaboration and communication is the best way to work successfully. 

What culture change is needed in the industry to achieve this?

Openness – businesses need to recognise what they can gain from collaboration. Getting over the commercial barriers and by sharing actually gaining. 

A prioroity, you say, is for the industry to boost its diversity? Why?

By definition we are missing out on a large proportion of the population if we have a narrow group of people working in the sector. Not only does that reduce the available skills it is also damaging in terms of public perception of construction if it is too male dominated. There are many gains from being a more diverse industry. 

So what is the industry doing to attract a more diverse workforce?

There is a focus on values and outcomes of what is trying to be achieved. A better built environment, response to climate change, focus on energy shortages, food poverty, appealing to the value systems are some of the ways we appeal to a more diverse population. Showing exciting technologies used is also attractive – particularly to a younger generation who may have a traditional views on construction. 

You have been running a commission into the challenges of retrofitting solid wall insulation across the UK’s existing housing stock. How is this work going? 

It is still early days and a very complex area! Currently, we are looking at how we can make it more affordable and attractive as an energy efficiency solution. There will be an update to the Green Construction Board later this month and a target for report by late summer. 

The use of BIM is central to the delivery of a more efficient industry, with Level 2 mandated across the public sector by 2016. Is this challenge going to be met? 

All government departments are a good way along the trajectory by 2016 which I believe to be more important than the end point. BIM is a trogon horse for good project management and waste reduction. I’m more concerned about the industry as a whole becoming compliant rather than meeting specific deadlines.

What is your vision for the future business models needed in construction?

Currently, a barrier which holds us back is the industry structure. Tier 2 of the supply chain is affected by Tier 1. There is a lack of alignment and how to unlock these issues must be addressed. This could result in some radical changes for the construction industry as a whole.