By Prof. David Philp FCIOB, Global BIM/IM Consultancy Director at AECOM

Scotland’s construction industry has a pivotal national role to play, shaping the future of our diverse built environment improving place making and the lives of our citizens who use them. You could say our diverse 170,000 workers (10% of all Scottish jobs) and 45,000 related businesses punch well above their weight, with almost a multiplier of £1 spent on construction output equating to £3 generated in our economy. Construction also plays major part in securing Scotland’s international competitiveness through the export of innovative construction services and knowledge.

Walking around our cities and towns, however, there is a noticeable lack of tower-cranes which would suggest either a declining pipeline or a shift in end market investment from vertical to horizontal infrastructure. Despite this visual lead indicator, and despite Brexit related issues, it is forecast positively that construction in Scotland remains resilient and is expected to expand, albeit weighted towards new housing and infrastructure projects.  Additionally, with such a large and aging retained estate, there is always a huge backlog of maintenance and refurbishment projects to deal with, which are a constant and crucial pipeline in addition to the new project investments such as the Baird & Anchor Hospital in Aberdeen or the A9 dualling. We also have a proud heritage sector with valuable skills and we know how to curate and conserve our historic environment from castles to monuments to canal ways.

The public client direction is pivotal to the sector growth agenda and the Scottish Government’s programme for 18/19 highlights the great opportunity to drive change through an increased commitment to infrastructure spend and a key enabler to support Scotland’s economic growth.  The programme launched in November 2018 illustrated a mission to increase annual investment in infrastructure by 1% of current GDP, or £1.56 billion, by the end of the next Parliament in 2025-26 as part of a move towards a low-carbon economy. Sustainable and inclusive economic growth sits as a national objective and modern methods of construction, new funding & procurement models and digital working are seen as key enablers to:

  • Improve infrastructure delivery and performance;
  • Improve productivity of industry;
  • Upskill industry to improve international competitiveness;
  • Support the development of low carbon public sector estate.;
  • Help create a digital enable construction sector that will attract new entrants and entrants from under represented communities;
  • Support the delivery of digitally enabled public sector estate (schools, health centres);
  • Create demand for new innovative digitally enable buildings.

Reform and modernisation sit at the heart of Scotland’s construction evolution where modern methods of construction, whole-life cost and digital construction take centre stage. Despite initial low levels of adoption in innovative and digital ways of working, there has been a sharp growth in adoption supported by:

  • A Scottish Building Information Modelling (BIM) policy and programme;
  • Creation of an Infrastructure Commission for Scotland
  • Launch of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC)
  • Formation of Construction Scotland to unite, progress and grow the industry, providing leadership and direction, and acting as the voice of the industry as a whole;
  • The Scottish Futures Trust who are working on driving improvements in the Scottish construction industry through new ways of working, fair work, infrastructure technology, modern construction methods and improved capacity.

The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) is a great beacon for our sector. Since launching in October 2014, it has really helped Scottish construction organisations explore innovation science and help drive transformational change in construction linking together businesses, university experts and public sector providers.  Their 35,000 sq ft. innovation factory is allowing industry to experience advanced manufactured and robotics and adopt these practices within their own organisations.

These game-changing technologies cannot create practical reform on their own and they must converge with other priorities, such as those highlighted by Construction Scotland which include:

  • Procurement: To achieve a fundamental change to how capital procurement works in Scotland, and stop procurement against lowest price;
  • Skills: To increase the skills and diversity of the construction workforce in Scotland;
  • Quality & Standards: To ensure improved customer satisfaction and safety, and to work to eliminate industry defects;
  • Planning & Building Regulations: To ensure the appropriate regulation and planning is in place to support the delivery of sustainable construction investment and development across Scotland, and to maximise the positive outcomes;
  • Growth Opportunities: To facilitate and support the generation of growth opportunities for the industry;
  • Productivity & Innovation: To support a more productive, innovative and profitable industry.

Moreover, quality and funding models also remain a big issue and CIOB are members of the select Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) Panel which is overseeing the implementation of Government activities related to the recommendations in the “Cole” report.

So, when CIOB Members’ Forum commences in Edinburgh this month, my hope is that delegates see our industry as forward thinking, collaborative, diverse and innovative. I am certain they will enjoy our built environment, from new infrastructure such as the Queensferry Crossing, amazing public realm such as Falkirk’s “The Helix” (with their amazing Kelpies), incredible architecture such as the V&A in Dundee, to our historic buildings such as the fortress on the hill aka Edinburgh Castle.  Our nation and our construction sector are dynamic, pioneering and are well placed to deliver and maintain quality high performing built infrastructure – the future of the Scottish construction sector is bright.