Time to stop debating and start delivering efficiencies, Hancock tells industry

Cabinet Office head of construction David Hancock headlined at the CIC Construction Summit. He explained the new government’s aims and what industry should expect from the next five years ahead of his speech in an interview with Infrastructure Intelligence and attendees at a Griffiths & Armour breakfast event.

David Hancock, head of construction, Cabinet Office

How is this government different to the last one?

DH Without doubt the administration is new; there is more focus on what it wants to achieve as you would expect from having one political party in power. In the past decisions would have to be made in negotiation, now what is required is quite clear.  

There are 150 manifesto commitments that Government is determined to deliver. There is a continuation of the desire to be a reforming government and under civil service chief executive John Manzoni government is being upskilled via the Major Projects Leadership Academy and the Project Leadership Programme so it can be closer to industry and is able directly take the lead as a client.

Industry is talking about collaboration and asking for direction. What you are seeing develop is what you asked for as an industry – maybe not in the way that you’d always want but the outcomes will be the same.

Still time to sign up for The Construction Industry Summit which is organised by the CIC on 8 and 9 September. For details of how to attend click here

Should we expect a more draconian five years but ones where we will get decisions?

DH They won’t be more draconian and you will get more decisions as this is a majority government not a coalition. Industry may not like all the decisions. But the government is set on its course as set out in the manifesto and we are there to help them deliver it.

David Hancock will be speaking at the Griffiths & Armour Integrated Project Insurance Masterclass on 17 September in London, To APPLY FOR A PLACE emal Carl Evans at

How important in this are the leadership programmes for government’s development as a client?

DH Very. We are trying to upskill people not just to understand the contract, but to contract manage the contract and to understand that that is about managing people not process. We understand that change is driven by the client. And what we have to become, and I don’t like using the words intelligent client, is a client that understands what it is buying, why it is buying and what outcomes it is hoping to get from the investment.

Why has government abandoned the role of chief construction adviser and trimmed the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) from 30 to 10?

DH This government is all about more focus. We have spent five years doing the exploratory phase, now is the time to start delivering.

We needed a Chief Construction Adviser in the past for instance as we didn’t have the capability in government. But as we upskill we will have that capability. And we do have Infrastructure UK and the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG) to help us too.

The Government Construction Board is where all the government clients meet and the idea is we try to sort the issues out ourselves and get the task groups in the CLC and ICG to support us.

My team in the Cabinet Office is still running the trials for new models of procurement – open book, cost led procurement and integrated project insurance, alongside early contractor involvement and the push for collaboration.

I am one for doing a few things well rather than a scattergun approach. Peter Hansford (Chief Construction Adviser) and I have always worked closely. Now he is leaving I have to get out to industry and be more visible.

Government wants 33% of its work to be done through SMEs. Is achieving that one of the issues that government clients will be focused on?

DH One of the things we are looking at as we become an informed client is when do we need to involve a big company and when not. We want to choose to work with companies of the right scale; it shouldn’t always by the Tier One’s. But no one should see that as a threat. By being an informed client it will enable us to ask the right questions such as when do we involve the supply chain early and which parts of it.

Should the government’s recent productivity report be seen by the industry as a major new call to arms?

DH The report (produced at the same time as the Spring Budget) might have been a new report but in terms of the issue of productivity, that is something that we keep harping back to. There is a lot of waste in the industry; it clearly could be more efficient. When we benchmark ourselves with Europe, we find we are not quite as good. But now we have a chance, because of the long pipeline of work, to do something about it. When all the budgets were annual you could only worry about the day to day things. But if you have a five year plan you can start to plan for productivity improvement. We do have productivity issues but if we can get productivity up our industry has a very rosy future.

What can government as a client learn from what is going on at Network Rail where a couple of jobs have been paused because they can’t be funded from the current five year allocation?

DH It’s interesting. Network Rail was asked to try to understand five years ago what it wanted in five years’ time. That’s a very difficult thing to do and things will change. Now they need to need to move things around but they still have the outcomes in mind, and they will maybe do them in a different way. Their ambition is good. As a client you need to push and see how far you get, and regroup. Stopping a project is not a failure; in my eyes it’s learning. To plan for 10 years and expect no changes is a bit naïve. We should be expecting changes. And that should be seen as people understanding their business; instead it is almost seen as a weakness and that is wrong.

Is the mandatory requirement for use of BIM 2 on government projects from 2016 forcing change on the industry to good effect?

DH Yes, I believe so. BIM 2 is a massive change and there is a lot of work to do to embed BIM level 2 throughout the industry which will take years. But whether we like it or not BIM is forcing a new way of working. Along with early contractor involvement it is obliging collaboration; that leads you to standard products and offsite manufacture. Long term industry structural change has to follow.

What is the key benefit of BIM for clients?

DH It’s understanding the supply chain right down to manufacturing, particularly what it costs to bespoke something. BIM will help us. It will really help educate clients so they understand every time they ask for something, they can quantify the on-costs and whether there is a better solution to fit the demands without having to go to bespoke. 

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