Procurement, the pandemic and what the future may hold | Wates

The construction industry is currently going through a unique period in its history with the combined impact of technology, modern methods of construction and now Covid-19 all challenging us to think differently.

These issues and more beside will undoubtedly change the face of the industry in the years ahead and for our latest Wates Construction Summer Series roundtable, where we invited leading figures from across the sector to discuss a range of key industry topics , we explored what the future may hold for procurement.

Steve Spilsbury, Framework Director, Wates Construction

Customers priorities

With all the challenges that the industry has faced over the past six months, as it has carefully navigated the obstacles created by the pandemic, it could be assumed that this has had a significant impact on procurement.

However, the general feeling from the event was that there had been little change to customer priorities though some of the panel did cite an increased focus on sustainability and social value. There was also a consensus that the public sector had been bullish in pushing through projects whilst the private sector remained more hesitant.

Nevertheless, while construction programmes had remained within recognizable timeframes, there had been some additional cost as greater risk was factored into the preliminary stages of a project.

Competitive versus collaborative approach

Other key disruptors raised by the panel were project teams adjusting to working virtually, providing a Covid-secure environment for site employees, visitors, and the supply-chain whilst legal advisors challenged the use of Covid-19 clauses in the contracts.

Regarding a competitive versus collaborative approach to procurement, there was mixed feedback. Whilst some clients still prefer to put Contractors in competition, there are others that see the benefit of a more collaborative approach. There was however alignment across the panel that there is a far greater qualitative emphasis on tenders rather than just cost.

Indeed, from a client-side perspective and particularly regarding public sector frameworks, there would be qualitative aspects set to become a significant opportunity for contractors who fully embraced them.

For instance, having a strong employment and skills plan for the project remained a key driver in successful tendering and the public sector wanted to work with companies that were tackling this issue. Also, with sustainability currently driving much of the new thinking in the industry, initiatives like delivering biodiversity net gain in projects would be a major factor going forward.

Social distancing on site
Social distancing on-site at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre

Challenges in the industry

The growing number of procurement routes with the plethora of national, regional and sector specific frameworks in addition to traditional routes was also an area that generated significant discussion at the seminar.

Some consultants shared the challenge of getting a high-quality tender list for projects as Contractors in recent times have become much more selective. Whilst most Consultants and Clients encourage a shorter list to give an improved chance of success for the bidding Contractor, a list of three can quickly become one as some Contractors do not commit to the full process.

Frameworks came in for some challenge, with the panel recognizing that some add real value and have substance whilst others merely act as tendering ‘portals’ and have less than robust origins. The Client’s key challenges to the competing frameworks are will it add value to my project and will it give me the right contractor.

Contractors were also challenged by some Consultants on the panel to ensure that they do not just talk collaboration, they deliver on their promises and they adapt to the procurement model being used.

Oxford University Framework

Moving forward

Looking ahead, there was a feeling that the industry is moving towards a new era with a focus on Modern Methods of Construction, the journey towards delivering zero carbon projects and an ever-increasing use of technology to facilitate these.

As one of the panelists said: “Every five years it feels like we are on the cusp of something but this time it feels that genuine change is more realistic than ever.”

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