18 May, 2021
An independent review of public sector construction frameworks should have happened before the publication of the Construction Playbook and should take a project-led approach to best practice.
Launched in December 2020, the Playbook was introduced to step up construction sector productivity and innovation. Whilst such sentiment is welcome, it would have been more effective for Government to first consider what defines the success of these goals, before producing around 80 pages of guidance on the matter.
The independent review of frameworks is now aspiring to create a 'gold standard' for implementing the guidance outlined in the Construction Playbook. This standard will become a benchmark for the strategic planning of projects including integration of teams and delivering continuous improvement. Ultimately, it's envisaged that it will realise Playbook policies to deliver better, safer, faster and greener projects.
Determining this 'gold standard' now, after the Playbook has been published, leaves what constitutes framework best practice open to reasonable challenge. It is plausible to question whether any benchmarks recommended during the framework review are confined by policies that were published three months ago. In this respect, it's logical to consider that the gold standard should have informed elements of the Playbook and that absolute clarity around best practice was lacking when policies were drawn up.
As well as this factor potentially undermining the robustness of guidance provided in the Playbook and coming from the current framework review, it also risks tempering confidence and buy-in from the construction sector.
Looking beyond this rather back-to-front approach, the framework review must stretch beyond the public sector. Consultation for the Playbook involved both the public and private sectors and the Chancellor's most recent Budget included plans for the new UK Infrastructure Bank. This will bring together local government and the private sector to accelerate infrastructure investment, suggesting that a variety of non-publicly funded organisations will be heavily involved in public sector construction frameworks.
Rather than leading with a public sector focus during the framework review, it may well be more practical to look at different types of construction projects and how procurement, planning, operations, people and environmental impact each vary according to scale and specification. There is no one-size-fits-all in terms of frameworks, however, this could provide a more comprehensive view of how projects are delivered, irrespective of funding methods.
Taking more of a project-led approach to frameworks could also better inform 'effective contracting'. This is likely to be a key part of the review and appears to be focused on ensuring that contracts are structured to support an exchange of data, collaboration, improve value and manage risk with clear expectations for continuous improvement. Project scale and type are crucial to each of these elements and will also make sure that services and goods are properly considered as part of effective contracting.
Ultimately, the framework review is designed to help identify, implement and measure best practice. If this is to be successful and practical for those involved in planning, procuring and delivering construction projects, its gold standard recommendations must not be afraid to challenge existing policies. Taking a construction led, rather than a public sector focused approach, will be key to this.
For more information contact Gemma Duxbury in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0333 207 4239. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.