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2020: Key predictions for the UK construction industry

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January 2020 not only marks a new year, but a new decade.

As 2019 ended with a majority government and a much clearer path to Brexit, this year should see the conversation move on from negotiation agreements and referendums, providing an opportunity for new policies to be formed, and the construction industry to flourish after months of stagnation. To mark a fresh start, I have set out my three key predictions for the coming year.

Increased infrastructure spending

In his election manifesto, Boris Johnson promised to "spread opportunity across every part of the UK... by investing in better infrastructure”. For now, this is looking promising, but over the course of 2020, we will find out if the Tories stay true to this commitment. Chancellor Sajid Javid has pledged to “level-up” economic performance in struggling towns in northern England and the Midlands in a tax-and-spend Budget on the 11th March. We should find out further detail on where the promised £100 billion for infrastructure will be spent, and the green light given to major projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and the proposed new line connecting Manchester and Leeds.

This year will also be make or break for the future of HS2, as the government considers the findings of the Oakervee Review. In 2020 we also need to consider how leaving the EU and the resulting change to our immigration system will affect the current construction workforce and our ability to deliver. A higher minimum wage and an emphasis on vocational training will be vital to see the delivery of new projects through to completion.

Sustainable construction

Around the world, campaigners, cities, institutions and governments are declaring a state of emergency in response to climate change, and the industry is considering how to respond and acting accordingly.

The government estimates that construction accounts for almost 47% of the UK’s total emissions, with cement responsible for 8% alone.

Mark Robinson

chief executive, SCAPE

Looking forward, the industry must implement a detailed action plan to embed sustainable industry standards and practices and must not delay on rolling this out across the board. Although more buildings are needed to meet demand from our growing population, it is the public and private sector’s responsibility to ensure that our new buildings are as environmentally-friendly as possible.

To date, we have seen carbon scrubbing building facades, bricks made of recycled cigarette butts, thermally driven air conditioners and asphalt that will heal itself. But these innovations are only the tip of the iceberg and the start of the advances set to shake up the industry this year.

Social value

This month will mark two years since the collapse of Carillion and protecting and upholding good public sector procurement practices has never been more important. Once the UK leaves the EU, we will have the ability to create our own procurement system which is simple, more flexible and less bureaucratic, and one that can act as an incredible force for change.

Price and quality have long dominated the UK’s procurement processes, but the industry is finally waking up to the importance of social value practices which should be embedded within all decision making to ensure every project leaves a legacy in the community.

Through innovative and strategic public sector procurement, central and local government can act as a catalyst for change. Public sector frameworks can create social value not only through the physical environments they help to create and maintain, but also the economic activity they generate, both locally and nationally.

SCAPE has been championing a more holistic approach to assessing bids for several years and we are now calling for a 20 per cent minimum social value requirement to be placed on every public sector project. If this policy was put in place, almost £57 million could be unlocked for local communities on government contracts alone, which is a huge opportunity for the public sector this year.

The next 12 months will undeniably deliver change. Although 2020 will go down in history as the year Brexit was delivered, there is definitely room for significant development in other policy areas.