25 years ago a hugely influential government report entitled ‘Rethinking Construction’, also known as the Egan Report, was published. It looked at the how the UK construction industry could adopt efficiency measures used in other industries such as automotive and aerospace. In the time since it was published the industry has moved a long way to implement the five key drivers of change: committed leadership, focus on the customer, integrated processes and teams, a quality-driven agenda and commitment to people.
But what about the government? The government has always used construction as an accelerator and a brake for the economy thereby denying the industry the stability it needs. The decision to mothball the redevelopment of the Euston HS2 station suggests nothing has changed. The whole HS2 project, which is the ‘flagship’ ‘levelling up’ project, has suffered cut after cut and will no longer make it either to the north or central London in the near future. The Euston project has been stopped during construction and mothballed for at least the next couple of years in order to cut costs and push them into the future. The scheme, which dates from 2015, faces another redesign following one last Autumn to reduce the number of platforms. The main contractor had about 360 people working on site but many more employed at subcontractors and suppliers will have been affected. The design team was 600 strong with half of them based on site.
I know from experience that it isn’t possible to shave more than a single figure percentage off the cost of a project without a fundamental rethink of the design. Why has it taken 8 years to decide that the 2015 scheme is the wrong scheme? I can’t think of a more expensive way to ‘save’ money than to halt and redesign a project mid construction.
The government needs to ease up on austerity when it comes to infrastructure and treat it as investment to boost flagging growth and deliver on the ‘levelling up’ agenda.