The headline and opening paragraph of the Building magazine e-newsletter that popped into my inbox this morning instantly topped up any post-sleep slump in my cynicism.
Government to launch new construction strategy
A new government construction strategy focused on improving client skills, tackling industry skills shortages and further adoption of BIM will be published within weeks, Building can reveal.
Oh dear, not again. My views on the last one can be read here.
The main relief in the story was the comment from Paul Morrell: “Above all, though, let’s have no more damn-fool targets which are there presumably just to catch the eye of politicians and the media.”
Unless I have been lied to persistently, the reaction to the previous strategy of 2013 (the Government and Industry Strategy) – which often, understandably, gets confused with the one before that (the Government Strategy) from the Cabinet Office in 2011 – was mixed. And that is being euphemistic.
We are steadily degrading the notion of a strategy. We appear to have created a production-line that spews out on a regular basis chart-filled, data-packed, analysis-light, infographic-heavy, platitude-splattered,cliché-riddled documents that might grace the table of a low-budget think tank, but are really not what the industry needs.
These “strategies”, as Morrell suggests in his quotes in the Building article, appear to feed the shallow desires of politicians and are mainly exercises in public relations.
As I see it, they muddle tactics and strategy and substitute “aspirations” for clear objectives.
Here, from the current strategy:
- PEOPLE An industry that is known for its talented and diverse workforce
- SMART An industry that is efficient and technologically advanced
- SUSTAINABLE An industry that leads the world in low-carbon and green construction exports
- GROWTH An industry that drives growth across the entire economy
- LEADERSHIP An industry with clear leadership from a Construction Leadership Council
Well that’s lovely, another dollop of motherhood and apple pie on my plate.
Worse, we are putting in place arbitrary targets, some with potentially harmful unintended consequences if taken literally.
The targets bear no relationship to the purpose of construction within the economy and society, a tough discussion of which is seemingly absent from the thinking.
We might start with, for example, the purpose of construction being to create a built environment that is effective, efficient, comfortable, inspiring, healthy and safe. One which adds huge value socially and economically.
On that basis, frankly, if we end up investing more in construction and in return get a more-inspiring, more-efficient, more-effective, more-secure economy and society that’s would be a good investment. So why focus so heavily on spending less rather than creating better buildings?
My fear is that we will once again be served up with a strategy, to add to the pile, that tells the industry, albeit nice and politely, that it is rubbish and could do better. And then it will whinge on about how construction needs to improve its image.
But don’t get me wrong. The industry needs a strategy. And by that I mean a strategy.