As the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford AM, launched his mid-term review of the Welsh Government’s Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP), Ed Evans, Director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Cymru, stresses the importance of long term planning in the infrastructure sector and the social as well as economic and environmental benefits that should accrue.
As an industry we very much welcomed the development of the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP) as, for the first time, it provided a measure of long-term visibility of workload and set out the intentions of government at a local and all-Wales level.
Visibility of workload is crucial to the infrastructure sector at a whole host of levels :
- For the private sector that visibility means being able to better plan for the future, better skills forecasting, greater employment, greater opportunities to innovate and greater efficiency – and, hence, productivity;
- For the public sector it should also mean better planning opportunities for the future – greater opportunity for collaboration across the public sector and greater value for money;
- For us, as a nation, given that we spend over £4bn per annum on construction and infrastructure, it should mean better returns on that investment, greater opportunities for our people and greater prosperity.
So, we were delighted to see the WIIP developing, maturing and adding greater value to sector. It was great to hear the Cabinet Secretary speak about the various funding sources that will help to deliver the plan. We need the money, of course, otherwise the plan is pointless. But we need the plan if we’re to spend the money wisely – and if we’re to attract more funding from “non-traditional” sources and the private sector then the plan will give confidence to those potential investors.
But we also need the WIIP to better forecast the skills and the jobs that we need for the future – and we at CECA Wales along with colleagues from the Wales Construction Federation Alliance and CITB Cymru have developed a skills forecasting tool based on the WIIP. This means we can better inform the work of the Regional Skills Partnerships and make the case for the infrastructure and construction sectors to remain priority sectors. This allows us to better align skills needs with the education sector – schools and colleges – to better prepare our young people for great careers in this great sector. And I was extremely pleased that the launch of the mid-term review of the plan took place at Coleg y Cymoedd, an exemplar building with exemplar facilities. And one of Constructing Excellence Wales’ Exemplar Projects!
So, all these things are interconnected and it’s the WIIP that holds them all together.
But let’s also remind ourselves that the WIIP is only good if it remains “current, relevant, comprehensive and deliverable” – and that’s why the mid-term “refresh” is so important. But that last word “deliverable” is hugely important.
As a sector we need certainty of delivery – which, let’s face it, is a challenge for politicians – the Tidal Lagoon and electrification of the main line to Swansea both spring to mind!! So, delaying projects in the WIIP, or worse still, cancelling them, destroys confidence and reduces value as the promised investment and jobs don’t materialise. And importantly it reduces our ability, as an infrastructure sector, to deliver “social value” – which is what I promised to talk about alongside the Cabinet Secretary.
We all know that if you invest in infrastructure you get jobs, you increase skill levels and you increase prosperity. But if we invest really wisely and cleverly then this sector is ideally placed to deliver targeted social value – to provide opportunities for those whose prospects are maybe not so good, in those communities where poverty dominates and where low aspirations prevail.
And we must reduce the gap between prosperity and poverty in Wales – we need to raise all people out of poverty – and wise investment in infrastructure can help us do this.
And having a current, relevant, comprehensive and deliverable WIIP is essential as it allows us to look forward and plan for delivering targeted social value.
And make no mistake, we do need to plan for it because it doesn’t happen by magic, it doesn’t happen just because you put some clauses or targets into a contract and say to suppliers, there you go, get on with it.
We need to have social value “support structures” in place so that suppliers/contractors, rather than having to set things up from scratch whenever they win a contract, they can just “tap in” to public sector supported schemes, such as shared apprenticeships, and deliver targeted social value.
It’s no surprise that the best examples happen on the larger projects which last 2,3,4 years and because of the scale they develop their own support structure – but what about all the small projects, less than £1m, which collectively represent huge investment – lost opportunities!!
So my challenge to public sector is to use the WIIP to improve collaboration amongst yourselves, use your collective budgets and investment programmes, set up regional “social value support structures” for suppliers to access when they win contracts – shared apprentice schemes, employment schemes for NEETS, disadvantaged individuals, economically inactive, etc, access to schools and colleges, employer delivered programmes to support delivery of the Welsh Bacc Skills Challenges, get more people interested in STEM subjects and get more young women involved, get more ethnic minorities involved, etc, etc.
Then we can deliver targeted social value opportunities on all our investment not just the major projects.
That way we don’t lose opportunities.
And that way we all win!!
But the cornerstone of it all is having a “current, relevant, comprehensive and deliverable” WIIP and, of course, the political confidence and certainty to deliver it.
And that’s why, as a sector, we welcome a refreshed version of the WIIP and we’ll continue to work with the Welsh Government and construction clients, whether they want our help or not, to keep it “current, relevant, comprehensive and deliverable”.
Ed Evans is Director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Wales Cymru.
CECA Wales Cymru represents 60 of Wales’ largest and smallest civil engineering contracting businesses with a cumulative annual turnover in excess of £1bn and employing over 6,000 people. These businesses play a huge part in supporting communities across Wales and make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of our nation. Our members are also major providers of training and apprenticeship opportunities.
On a more fundamental level it is our members who will build the infrastructure that our nation needs to prosper.