A time for real change in Scottish construction sector

site with cranes and scaffolding

THE Covid-19 crisis has presented the Scottish construction industry with a potentially unique opportunity to bring about long-lasting change.

That’s the view of consultant Len Bunton, a specialist in dispute resolution, who has been leading the Construction Industry Coronavirus (CICV) Forum’s consultation on the future of the sector.

Len believes a number of issues including conflict avoidance and procurement could be due for a shake-up, while the new culture of collaboration and sharing ideas for the benefit of the whole industry is something that could continue long after the pandemic is over.

The CICV Forum has brought together a number of trade and professional bodies to share advice and information, as well as talk directly with government. Its recent consultation has been asking the Scottish construction industry what they would like to see in the future.

Len told Project Scotland, “The Forum could have written a document telling industry what it would have to do but instead we are asking industry what it wants. Quite simply, what are the issues that are causing the most problems and what can we do to deal with them? That’s why we launched our blueprint for change document and I’m hoping at the end of the consultation period we’ll have a very powerful and rounded view on the future of the industry. 

“The next step will be to work with government to get the changes implemented. There’s absolutely no shortage of desire to change the way the Scottish construction industry operates. It’s universal.”

Len Bunton

Len is hopeful the industry will see widespread adoption of the Conflict Avoidance Pledge, a joint initiative from professional bodies including RICS, RIAS and ICE, which aims to use early intervention techniques to resolve issues before they escalate into full-blown disputes.

He wants to see a ‘culture change’ within the sector and revealed that a fundamental point concerns the procurement process. Len stated he’d like greater emphasis on quality, experience and capability when tendering.

“The industry for too long has been driven by a race to the bottom of accepting the lowest price,” he explained. “That’s got to stop. Architect fees have been annihilated over the years. We need to get back to paying designers properly to design buildings. I would like to see the reintroduction of a scale of fees in the public sector because most of the construction disputes I deal with go right back to a project not being designed properly from the outset.”

Len said he’s been encouraged by the way industry has mobilised during the crisis.

“The CICV Forum has been incredible because it’s the first time in 40 years we’ve had a collective group of people pointing in the same direction, all trying to improve the construction industry,” he said. “This Forum has demonstrated that everybody has a desire to achieve a better industry which will benefit everyone involved. We’ve worked hard to solve problems. I have come across some of the most incredibly talented people in the past ten weeks that I’d never met before. Yesterday we had a discussion which involved four major contractors, just sharing problems. That’s been fantastic; that’s never happened before.”

Despite this optimism, Len said the challenges the industry faces in the recovery period will be enormous.

“Contractors this month probably won’t be able to generate any applications for payment,” he added. “That creates an immediate cash flow problem. Then they’ll go on to sites and not be fully productive because of the distancing regulations. Anecdotally, people are saying production might be 30-60%. Nobody knows, but obviously that will have an impact on the value of applications that contractors are able to make every month.

“Health and safety is absolutely of paramount importance. Observing these site operating procedures is going to be critical. The industry has responded well on that. The Forum has produced an excellent guideline on site operating procedures, which has been very helpful for people going back on site.”

The CICV Forum Blueprint for the Industry can be obtained by e-mailing info@cicvforum.co.uk