The new Scottish Construction Accord needs some “quick wins” to maximise industry engagement and convince the wider sector of its value.
That’s the view of Alan Wilson, chair of the Construction Industry Collective Voice (CICV) and Managing Director of SELECT, Scotland’s largest construction trade association.
Launched last month by Scotland’s public sector and construction industry, the Accord is a shared commitment to help businesses thrive, enhance working conditions for employees, improve the delivery of construction quality, and assist with net zero goals.
Described as the first of its kind in the UK, the Accord highlights the need to improve the “capability and diversity” of the construction workforce, reform procurement practices and increase the use of digital technology and modern methods of construction.
Alan said there is a “degree of realism” about the Accord among trade bodies, but he is confident the initiative will prove to be a turning point if the industry can see early evidence of its success.
Speaking in an interview with Project Scotland, he said: “This is a difficult time, but I do think the Accord is different and I’m really keen to encourage my colleagues to look at it differently.
“Getting individual businesses involved is difficult because ultimately what they’re about is looking after their own business, quite rightly, and we’re facing a very difficult time with skills shortages, payment issues, material shortages, cuts and budgets.
“I just hope individuals who are interested take the opportunity to get involved, but it’s going to take a bit of time because I think there’s nothing better than seeing some successes to encourage people to participate.
“We need to focus on wins that the industry will see. At the end of the day, we’re all human and we all want something out of it for ourselves, and I think that’s not an unreasonable expectation. People should see benefits out of the Accord and if we can prove to people that it’s working, that might change mindsets.”
The Accord was launched by Business Minister Ivan McKee and industry leaders acting through the Construction Leadership Forum (CLF) and its implementation will now be driven by a Transformation Action Plan, with working groups focusing on key priorities.
Alan said he is encouraged by the work that has gone into it and is optimistic it will bring about genuine change – but said one of the biggest challenges will be getting groups around the table and ensuring the whole industry is engaged.
He said: “We’re at the nadir of things like skills, payment, workloads, and material costs, so this is an opportunity to reset the industry and think what we want, not now, but in two, three or five years’ time.
“Hopefully people will get engaged enough to make those changes. There are some great people out there; really bright people who are committed to the industry who can make a difference.”
Alan said it’s becoming increasingly evident that the industry can’t do things in isolation, adding: “I think what the Accord aims to do – and this is a laudable objective – is to bring everyone around the table.
“We’re never going to agree on everything and even in the CICV, which has been tremendously successful, we still have areas we don’t have unanimity. What’s important is that people understand other people’s views on things.”
Alan cited the thorny issue of cash retentions as one where there are often differing opinions amongst contractors, sub-contractors, architects, and clients.
He said: “You need to engage because it’s all too easy to sit on the sidelines and snipe and say ‘Nothing’s going to change’ or ‘This isn’t going to happen’.
“Well, nothing will happen unless you make it happen and get involved. I used to think I was a sceptic, but I realise now I’m a realist. Being a realist, I know it’s not going to change overnight, but it will reset the direction of travel.”
He added: “We can’t underestimate enough how much coming together and understanding each other’s position does help to change minds. We just need to have grown-up conversations about the way we work, the hours we work and the days we work.”
Alan said he believes there is appetite for change within the industry, with a growing realisation that issues such as tackling skills shortages and meeting ambitious environmental targets will only work through collaboration.
He is also confident that the companies that choose to embrace change will be rewarded, stating that the Accord will “emphasise the clear blue water” between those trying to do the right thing and those who are stuck in the past. Above all, he sees procurement as being the biggest and most important issue that the Accord will seek to address.
He told Project Scotland: “If we’re talking about the building blocks on a building – no pun intended – you’ve got to start the beginning, at the foundations.
“So how do we procure work? How do we pay for it? How do we engage with our clients and contractors? How do we build things that are going to have a long shelf life, which are going to be easier to maintain and service rather than just being erected and then forgotten about? That has to be the key priority.
“Then we’ve got issues about capacity and capability and diversity of the workforce, because we’ve got a terribly poor record on diversity in the industry. I’ve got seven grandchildren – soon to be eight – and five of them are girls. I would be really disappointed if at least one of them doesn’t end up in construction because I think it’s a great career.”
Alan added that one of the other factors which differentiates this attempt to transform the construction industry is the genuine support from senior politicians.
He explained: “As an industry, we’ve always striven to have a Construction Minister and it’s never quite happened. I think the pandemic has brought government ministers around the table, which is so important. I think it’s great to see that level of engagement and hopefully government – whatever type they are – will be interested in taking long-term decisions for the benefit of the nation, not for the benefit of politicians.”
The Accord has already been welcomed by other members of the CICV, with Vaughan Hart, Managing Director of the Scottish Building Federation, saying it is “extremely heartening” to see issues being taken seriously at the highest levels.
Gordon Nelson, Scotland Director of the Federation of Master Builders, said the Accord has the potential to “help create entrepreneurial people, establish new market opportunities, support productive businesses and regions, build a skilled workforce and deliver a fairer and more equal society”.
And Fiona Hodgson, Chief Executive of the Scottish and Northern Ireland plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF), called the Accord a “significant step forward” and an opportunity to make “real, practical change that will benefit everyone in the sector”.
She added: “The past two years have proved that the three Cs – collaboration, cooperation and commitment – are key to any success, so we MUST work together if we are to achieve meaningful change through its recommendations.”
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