Construction Leadership Council – study into labour markets & off-site

This blog was written by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans

This blog was written by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans

Exciting times: leading on from BSRIA’s press statement issued on 3rd February: the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has been asked to undertake a “major” labour market study by skills minister Nick Boles MP and housing minister Brandon Lewis MP.

BSRIA is encouraging member and industry input from to the accompanying CLC consultationconstruction industry labour model study

Evidence to: construction.enquiries@bis.gsi.gov.uk

Deadline: Monday 29th February 2016.

The CLC has invited Mark Farmer of Cast Consultancy (formerly Arcadis) to lead the study, culminating in a report for CLC’s consideration in the spring. It will both: reflect on the impact of the current “labour model” in construction and make recommendations for action by the industry and government to help overcome constraints on skills development and the sector’s capacity to deliver new homes and infrastructure.

In particular, ministers want to know whether there are structural issues and risks that diminish long-term incentives for smaller subcontractors, who employ the largest part of the sectors workforce, to invest in training.

As I said earlier this month: BSRIA is very much supportive of this commission and consultation and, on behalf of the industry and our members, wishes to be involved every step of the way. Such commission hasn’t come a day too late, especially with rising demand especially, but not only, in the house building sector.

Alternative delivery methods – such as off-site – with a fresh skills base and capacity to bring new entrants to home building supply chains signifies a “shifting focus”.

 The consultation requests:

  • Evidence of how the construction labour model and recruitment practices impact on incentives for skills development in the sector (including in the supply chain) and on the introduction of more novel techniques such as off-site construction.

Evidence on how the current model works – including:

  • What business models and other arrangements could better support skills and skills pipelines in the sector?
  • What measures could improve wider incentives for capacity investment and the introduction of new ways of working?
  • What are the barriers and enablers to greater use of off-site construction?
  • How could the range of participants in the UK housing market be broadened, including through the better introduction of institutional funds?

So, I urge “one and all” to take a few minutes to put “comment to keyboard” for this crucial study. Remember: little can change without your expert opinions!

Betting on the general election? Think again

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

There are number of ways of predicting the outcome of the general election and an equal number of ways of being wildly incorrect. Bookmakers across the land are considering the 7th May to be a field day equal only to the Grand National in terms of punter cash finding its way through the betting shop door and not finding its way out again.

The one thing that seems sure is that the outcome is likely to be uncertain with both a three way coalition and a rerun of the election in the Autumn both being seen as possibilities.  So, where does that leave construction and building services?

Just as education and the health service are perennials in political manifestos so construction has some constant themes. Although construction rarely makes front page news there are a number of issues that seem likely to make the political headlines. Maybe for reasons of one-upmanship, as in who is promising to build the most houses? It’s the Liberal Democrats, since you ask; who are promising 300,000 new houses a year and an assurance that they’ll all be energy efficient. Or the startling alignment and collaboration between the three main political parties who are promising to work together on climate change, which in itself is surely not a bad thing?

But what of the perennials that effect construction?

Representation at senior levels seemed threatened at one point by questions being asked about the continuation of the role of Chief Construction Advisor, this is now resolved at least for the next two years. However other things are less easy to solve – the impending skills shortage, the delivery of low carbon retrofit and the lurking influence of increasing devolution will all play their part. As will continuing pressure on late payment practices, poor treatment of supply chain and the weakening of centrally funded research programmes.

The uncertainty caused by the impending election has been felt in the slackening of demand for construction since the turn of the year, the recent results of our quarterly consultants survey suggested that there has been a halt in new work as we wait for a new government. This has also been seen in a reduction in the immediate pre-election period of house building starts just at a time when we need to be addressing the national shortfall.

So back to my punt at the bookies, I think I will put my money back in my pocket and find something more predictable to spend it on, maybe something in preparation for the barbeque summer?

Government Soft Landings

This is a blog by Peter Corbett, Principal Quality Inspector at Essex County Council

This is a blog by Peter Corbett, Principal Quality Inspector at Essex County Council

As a Local Authority employee I am well aware of the push for both savings and value for money, it is therefore reassuring to see the importance the Government is affording their version of ‘Soft Landings’.

The Cabinet Office sees soft landings as the ‘golden thread’ of BIM, rather than a delivery tool, and is looking for three key benefits from its implementation, those being; Improved Environmental Performance, Improved Financial Performance and Improved Functionality and Effectiveness.

The Government’s Soft Landings policy drawn up in September 2012 recognised that ‘The ongoing maintenance and operational cost of a building during its lifecycle far outweighs the original capital cost of construction, and GSL identifies the need for this to be recognised through early engagement in the design process.

To help the development of GSL a stewardship group was formed to which all government departments and agencies were invited. This group generally meets quarterly with around twenty department and agencies represented. It seeks to update the GSL implementation progress across departments, develop training ideas and determine ways of measuring the benefits that could be gained from the process.

GSL has been the archetypal snowball, steadily gathering pace as it moves toward 2016 when the Cabinet Office has asked for its adoption by all central government departments and agencies, and gradually increasing in size, as with each stewardship meeting more departments and agencies are in attendance.

I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to the last GSL stewardship meeting through my links with the BSRIA Soft Landings User Group and as a Local Authority representative, and was encouraged to see the enthusiastic approach to soft landings from some of the more engaged departments, they like ourselves see the advantages soft landings could offer (albeit from an FM focussed approach that more considers the ‘In Use’ benefits) and are eager for the evidence of this that case studies and their like could provide. Of course as with most matters concerning Central & indeed Local Government the journey is never straight-forward, and as could probably be expected the speed of soft landings adoption varies greatly both in levels of commitment and of development between each Government department and agency.

So what next for GSL? On Friday 7th November there was a GSL supply chain engagement day, to which all Government departments and agencies were invited and encouraged to extend invites to their design, construction and facilities management partners. Attendees were treated to seminars on what Government Soft Landings actually are, why they should be used and how they should be implemented, as well as what training and ongoing support could be provided.

Soft_Landings_logo-highIt was fairly evident from the nature of the questions from Government department representatives that there remains a lot of work to do to obtain both a participative and consistent approach across all departments, as well as the difficulty in impressing on the supply chain providers that success on a project is not merely about building to budget and programme. As pointed out by one contractors’ representative ‘We know of Soft Landings, but that’s where our knowledge ends’, a better description of what GSL actually is was requested with examples of what ‘success’ actually looks like, and also recognition that there is a clear shift from Capex to Opex in the governments construction expectations. All evidence that there is still much to do to achieve wider engagement in soft landings throughout the industry.

But there remains a high level of commitment to soft landings from the Government as evidenced by this event, and this is likely to soon have an impact on those of us in Local Government. In my own Authority we have been using the principles of soft landings in order to help improve the delivery of our projects in areas that have proved problematic; this has predominantly centred on the handover and defects resolution stages, and also end-user training on their new building. For us the ethos of soft landings has been extremely beneficial, but we have been fortunate enough to get the buy-in from our framework of contractors, again some contractors are more engaged with the practice than others, however with the Governments push for the use of soft landings it should encourage everyone’s participation in the process, and hopefully to the benefit of all involved; commissioner, client and contractor.

 

Blogger profile

My working career began early 1980’s in civil engineering, after taking various qualifications I moved into construction after an acquaintance encouraged me to become a clerk of works at the age of 21.  I joined Essex County Council initially as an assistant clerk of works and have remained with the authority for almost thirty years, latterly as the authorities Principal Quality Inspector. I have more recently acted as the construction performance manager on Essex County Council’s Contractors Framework, for which I am undertaking the role of Soft Landings champion. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Clerks of Works and the Construction Inspectorate having first joined the organisation in the 1990’s.

Is construction still a losing game for most women?

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Politics is all about attempting to second-guess the mind of the electorate. Although cynics might cast a sceptical eye at the timing of the Cabinet reshuffle, the fact that women are more prominent in politics is a cause for celebration. After all, women make up 52% of Britain’s population, so increasing female ministers to around a quarter of the Cabinet (6 out of 17) is a belated step in the right direction1. But when there are so many talented women, why is it that more of them don’t achieve high office?

Before we cast too may stones, we in the construction industry need to have a good look in the mirror. Women make up just 11% of the workforce and our industry’s lack of progress towards equality is shameful. Aside from the lack of diversity, from a practical perspective, with one in five workers soon to reach retirement the industry needs to increase its skilled workforce. It needs to thus start attracting and retaining talented professionals regardless of gender, age or ethnicity (needless to say, ethnic minorities are also under-represented in construction2).

Women have struggled to get an equal footing in construction, but the representation of women in our industry has waxed and waned in recent history, demonstrating that, left to chance, both government leadership and the fluctuating demands for skilled labour can be persuasive. Perhaps Nicky Morgan, the new Minister for Women and Equalities ought to have something to say about this too.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of women who work as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is currently so low as to be essentially unmeasurable. It hasn’t always been like this. In the 18th century, women in Britain worked as apprentices “in a host of construction occupations, including as bricklayers, carpenters, joiners and shipwrights”. However, by the early 19th century, with changes in legislation and new divisions of skilled/unskilled labour, women became increasingly excluded. By 1861 trades including that of carpenter, plumber, painter, and mason, were subsequently largely ‘male’3.

The First World War led to a marked increase in women in the building trades through a government agreement with the trade unions which “allowed women into skilled male jobs as long as wages were kept low and they were released at the end of the war”. During the second world war, there was similarly an estimated shortage of 50, 000 building workers, so the National Joint Council for the Building Industry agreed that employers should identify whether any men were available first before a role was filled by a woman (who earned, on average, 40% less their male counterparts—and it’s still not perfect now, with women earning c10% less4). The bias of the apprenticeship systems and trade unions were largely responsible for the fact that women in the building industry declined once more from the 1950’s to ‘70s3.

We’re currently back to the issue of a lack of available skilled labour. The government recognises this, and I welcome the recently announced BIS funding call specifically designed to help women progress as engineers. The funding will support employer-led training to encourage career conversions and progression in the industry. This call is in response to a recent report identifying that “substantially increasing the number of engineers would help the UK economy […] and the potential to significantly increase the stock of engineers by improving the proportion of women working in engineering jobs”5.

Carbon Comfort event 14th March-lowFunding new training opportunities is a great step forward, but to see real change we need industry leaders to be proactive in embedding a more diverse and inclusive work culture. The majority of women aged 25-45 find that attitudes, behaviours and perceptions are the greatest barriers3.

If you feel there is nothing new in the story, then the words ‘ostrich’ and ‘sand’ come to mind. It is about you. It’s about you and how you and your business behave now, not just when we have the time given that the recession is over and it’s a ‘nice to do’.

So, inspirational leadership—and not just policy—will foster a more inclusive and skilled workforce. Look around you. How many women are in senior management roles? What is your office culture really like? Is your organisation progressive or part of the problem? And, most importantly, what are you going to pledge to do about it?

1 Reshuffle 2014: Women control one in four pounds of government spending. Huffington Post, 15 July 2014

Inquiry into Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry, Action Plan. Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010

3 Building the future: women in construction, The Smith Institute, 2014

Gender pay gaps 2012. David Perfect, Equality and Human Rights Commission Briefing Paper 6.

 Employer ownership: developing women engineers,BIS, 23 June 2014

Why do women leave architecture? Ann de Graft-Johnson et al., 2003.

If you are interested in careers at BSRIA then please check out our website. We also have an extensive training programme covering topics like BIM and the Building Regulations. 

UK Budget response from Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA Chief Executive

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

In a budget that is so close to an election there was never going to be pain inflicted that would upset the electorate and so measures required to compel anyone to spend money on energy saving was not going to feature in the Chancellor’s speech.   On the contrary, with Labour repeating their pledge to freeze energy prices the likelihood was that taxes on energy would be reduced – and with it the inevitable consequence that payback times on energy saving measures would become longer.

This is indeed what happened where the Chancellor quoted a figure for reduction of national energy costs of £7bn through a £1bn “special protection” aimed mainly at manufacturers with high energy intensity operations, steel mills, paper producers and chemical manufacturers. This package is intended to “protect… from the rising costs of the Renewable Obligation and Feed-in-Tariffs”.

A freezing of the Carbon Price Floor does also have a small benefit to householders – estimated at £15 per year.

One surprise however was a concession given to CHP which now has an exemption from the Carbon Price Floor for electricity generated.  It is aimed mainly at manufacturers using this technology but presumably will benefit other district schemes as well.

The Chancellor indicated that there would not be a reduction in renewable energy investment but since so much of that is driven by private investor money it remains to be seen how they will react to the plain intent to begin to offset the differential between UK energy prices and those in the USA.  Mr Osborne noted industrial energy costs were half the price in the USA compared to UK.

Elsewhere the statements regarding the efforts to increase house building were largely a restatement of previous announcements such as the proposed new garden city at Ebbsfleet and additional housing in Barking and Brent Cross.  What was intriguing was a proposal to give individuals a new “Right to Build” – backed with £150m of finance. The details of that will be interesting indeed as previous ministers with construction responsibilities have been keen to increase the volume of self-build homes.

Overall the budget did have a feel of being “Northern friendly” with reference to earlier consideration of HS2 construction beyond  its current plan, extension of enterprise zone tax breaks for a further three years and £270m to guarantee funding for the Mersey Gateway bridge.

Certainly the construction sector will welcome efforts to move the centre of effort further out from the London basin so that resources locked up in people, land and facilities can be fully exploited without the additional costs of working in the hothouse of the South but a budget designed for green development?  I don’t think so, that will have to wait until unpalatable policies can be applied with four years to go before a vote!

Review of the BSRIA Briefing 2013 – Changing Markets, New Opportunities

“Construction is the last of the big industries to go digital”, John Tebbit, Construction Products Association

November 2013 saw another brilliant BSRIA Briefing held as always at the fantastic Brewery in London. The event was chaired by John Tebbit, Industry Affairs Director at the Construction Products Association with c400 industry professionals in attendance. The speakers this year were focusing on customer satisfaction, data centre trends, changes in building practice and design decisions, smart technology leading the industry forward and the internet of things.

Chairman John highlighted two key issues facing the industry, the Construction 2025 strategy and the move towards Low Carbon as well as the construction industry being the last industry to go digital despite a demand to do so.

Bukky Bird talked about Tesco as a continuously changing organisation by highlighting some of the company’s historical milestones. From Tesco’s founder Jack Cohen opening a market stall in 1919 to becoming a global company with just over half a million colleagues today.

Bukky also highlighted some current customer expectations and key drivers for this such as the current economic context. She emphasised the need for organisations to understand and respond to changing needs and environments.

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, Tesco

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, TescoToday’s customer is under pressure, struggling with rising costs and dealing with lifestyle changes. The focus is therefore on family and the home, with a real expectation that brands should reduce waste and save money. Responding quickly to these needs is critical for retailers like Tesco and this should therefore drive the focus through the industry supply chain.

A challenge facing our industry is how to develop true partnerships to tackle these problems. Bukky highlighted the need for flexibility, agility and the need for the industry to be willing to change. The customer is changing radically and the building industry needs to be ahead of this curve.

Historically we have been very slow to adapt, and this is an opportunity to buck that trend. Her final point was that the industry are not supplying Tesco, but Tesco’s customers – understanding the customer’s needs and developing innovative solutions to meet these is key to successful partnerships.

“Nobody ever did anything to be green, they did it to save money”, Nicola Hayes, DatacenterDynamics

 Nicola Hayes looked at a rather different sector focusing on data centre trends and energy. Datacentres Nicola argued are the buildings you do not see, the hidden side of the industry and yet becoming a central part of several industries as people relocate their data to the Cloud. Nicola discussed the fact that Datacentres may be hidden but they do suffer negative publicity mostly due to the energy usage of such buildings and the accusation from the Press that they are singlehandedly destroying the planet. When viewing the industry as a country, the industry uses a little less energy than the UK as a whole, marked at 332.9TWh which is an exceptional amount and understandably a worry for the industry and a target from the Press.

But it was the trends that Nicola was concentrating on, where the Datacentre industry has come from and the expectations of it for the future. In three years the industry has grown from $86bn to a staggering $120bn as well a doubling in space used for the buildings, growing from 15million sqm to 31million sqm. The growth of Datacentres is down to several other key industries, the rate of increase has risen for Professional Services, Energy & Utilities, Industrial & Process and Media & Telecoms. With this growth there has been a change in how Datacentres are being built and their operations. There has been a 15% increase in outsourcing for the industry since 2007 rising to nearly a quarter of the industry but IT Optimisation still remains a major investment.

For the built environment the biggest change Datacentres has had for them is the increase in energy monitoring and the storage of millions of data bits. People in the world, particularly the US, UK and Germany are starting to become more conscious of energy efficiency therefore more business is generated for the Datacentre industry through big data from energy monitoring. Nicola pointed out that this is not done for a purely ‘green’ reason but primarily to monitor costs which are why most universities do not monitoring as they are not responsible for the financial side of their energy use.

With there being such a focus on energy efficiency, the way Datacentres are being built has also been a changing trend with there being 25% increase in the number of retrofits of Datacentres while there was only a 2.1% increase in the number of new builds. Efficiency measures (to answer to the Press criticism) are also now determined from the outset. However despite Datacentre industry growing at a fast rate there are risks involved for the industry from the small scale of compliance to the large scale of terrorist attacks. With these risks comes an important debate that is happening within the industry, cost vs. risk.

“There is a market for MVHR but we need to get better at delivering it”, Nigel Ingram, Jospeh Rowntree Housing Trust

 Nigel Ingram continued with a discussion about social housing and the consideration of end users when designing buildings. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust currently looks after 2,500 homes in Yorkshire and Hartlepool. Nigel discussed one particular project the Housing Trust are involved in, the Derwenthorpe village which looks at the lessons learnt from past projects and how they can improve their buildings. The way the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust decided on best building practices was through experimentation over four years, they built two prototypes and used 17 different methods and as many M&E components as possible including grey water harvesting and block work systems. The aim of this experimentation was to see what worked to create the best possible building.

As well as all these design considerations Nigel also enforced the importance of the end user and their lifestyles with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust looking at how people live in buildings and what changes in lifestyles are expected in the future and how best can the prepare buildings for that. There were three main points that made up the JRH’s strategic servicing infrastructure, the first being fibre optics. The Trust believes that with the use of technology ever increasing including internet, television packages etc. they needed to invest in a viable cabling network. However none of the big companies were prepared to discuss such a project therefore the Trust developed a joint venture with an investor to set up their own fibre optics for the estate, by doing so they satisfied the customers and set them up for any increase in connectivity in the future.

The second point the Trust considered was Communal Heating, they looked at a variety of different heating techniques for the estate such as low ground source heat pumps.  Communal Heating was decided on in 2007 from a carbon footprint point of view as at the time the Code of Sustainable Homes was announced with zero carbon targets by 2016. Communal Heating is notoriously difficult to get working efficiently, just like any heating system however after it was distilled down into the six components that worked for the Trust it was able to provide fuel security and prince control for the future residents which is what users wanted from their buildings. The system now works and is one of the only systems in the country that is successful and has been contracted for 25 yrs to a European Communal Heating group.

However Nigel wanted to point out that the Derwenthorpe village has not been completely successful, the final point in their strategic servicing infrastructure was MVHR Systems. The project has not seen any success with these systems, it has been installed in 64 houses but customer feedback has been negative and there are many issues with it. As an alternative MEV is now being used. Nigel stresses that there is a market for MVHR systems but for it to work there needs to be massive improvements in the industry in terms of commissioning, installation and maintenance. There seems to be a technology focus rather than process and this needs to change if the industry is to satisfy clients and users of buildings.

Nigel’s main focus for the Derwenthorpe project was customer satisfaction, the importance of the end user. Fibre Optics and Communal Heating was installed for the benefit of the residents of that estate as they have certain expectations of the way they live including operational and financial. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust has focused on the end user for their design plans rather than what should work from the industry perspective. Rigorous testing and accepting systems aren’t right has gone into making sure buildings are built as best as they can be which is important for our industry, it’s taking into consideration the mistakes made on previous building stock and learning from them and also considering the occupants and their needs.

“The Cloud is as suited to small buildings as it is to big buildings or building portfolios”, Jeremy Towler, BSRIA

 Jeremy Towler reflected on the “smart” built environment and how we get there. Jeremy highlighted that there is a lot happening and changing in our industry emphasising that we are the last industry to go digital despite there being several opportunities for digital work particularly wirelessly. BEMS will become an increasing component of buildings, modules will be built off site and therefore digital technology needs to be an important investment. Mobility will also become a more important part of the built environment, currently everyone uses a mobile but with geo-location buildings will be able to recognise everyone in buildings and respond dynamically. With this the collective voice of the occupants starts to influence the building which could be quite revolutionary.

Building Analytics are also an important step towards a “smart” built environment, increasingly buildings have sophisticated software that permits building operation and how best to optimise them. With Building Analytics becoming a more common part of our industry there has been a move towards the Cloud which has allowed data mining to reveal relationships and trends we never could have imagined. With these advances also comes the development of Smart Cities, particularly in China where there is a commitment to build at least 30. Jeremy defines smart cities as an incorporation of intelligent buildings, broadband connectivity, innovation, digital inclusion and a knowledge workforce.

But Jeremy states it’s not just smart cities we have to consider, its smart grids and smart buildings. Smart grids is an advanced power grid for the 21st century, essentially it is a decentralised multi directional model where energy and information can flow from supplier to consumer and vice versa which enables a variety of new applications for homes and businesses. Smart homes on the other hand have reached a critical mass and are due to break into the standard housing market but with this there has been an opportunity seized by the utilities who are now offering connectivity.

With smart homes becomes the internet of things and the ‘ubiquitous homes’ where sophisticated systems learn behaviour and respond accordingly, like our mobile phones that can tell us where we want to go and how we need to get there, such software will be used in our own buildings to provide our homes with the settings that we need. However the current built environment is a long way from becoming a smart industry, currently more than 75% of the building stock has no intelligent controls which is primarily to do with the age of the buildings with over 40% of total stock being built before 1960. With this in mind there is an opportunity for the industry to consider a great deal of retrofit projects but for smart technology to work to its best potential for the built environment the industry needs new skills developed through training in software and hardware analysis.

“We are now accountable for how our buildings perform “, Michael Beaven, Arup Associates

 Michael Beaven continued on this theme of the industry needing to change but instead focused on workflows. Arup has learnt that change is beneficial to the industry, adaption is necessary to meet the needs of the client. Arup have changed what they do and how they do it, learning that doing things the same way over and over again is to no benefit. However despite the need to adapt there are constants within the industry, carbon being the main issue for energy costs and emissions for companies in reputational aspects as well as the bottom line an example being Sky who are very forward looking including reducing the carbon of their set top boxes from 10 to 4 watts saving 20megawatts to the grid.

Importance of energy and efficiency is paramount but so is what we build it with. Embodied carbon is a key player in how we build our buildings now; decisions are being made on where products come from and their whole life cycle rather than primarily cost efficiency. Buildings are also being tested now, everything is monitored in our buildings so we can learn how to improve them, we are accountable for how buildings perform. From this we can learn how to design buildings that are successful for end users.

Michael also emphasised Jeremy’s point of the internet of things, how the integration of IP controls are making building betters and even the advancement of BMW considering smart transport for smart cities. Building on the interaction between traffic signals and mobile data to develop relationships between them to better control traffic, even where you park will be managed in a smart way. Another important development in terms of smart technology is that people are now connecting and sharing information on what works for a building and how best practices can be established.

One of Michael’s most important arguments was the importance of BIM and the matter that we as an industry really need to get up to speed with it. It’s client driven so we need to be on board as it is not only changing our workflows but also our business, without a grasp we lose projects. There also needs to be an acceptance that BIM is not just about 3D drawings and design but rather it should be a changing of our work streams to digital.

BSRIA Briefing panel answers questions from the audience

Michael’s final point tied in one of the key themes of the morning, customer satisfaction or rather the importance of the end user. Arup are moving towards an end user focus, designing buildings for people rather than the client or the architect. He used Sky as an example of a company championing a place for people, designing a building that understands what the user wants rather than what is considered the best design. Michael emphasised the feedback loop, empowering people to vocalise what they want in a building, what controls work for them, with that Soft Landings is critical for discovering what works and what doesn’t and resolving these issues before a project is completed.

There were a variety of thoughtful questions throughout the morning ranging from what the industry is doing to combat the UK’s power supply reducing to 2% by 2016, John Tebbit argued that the UK needs to stop investing in the UK and instead build industry abroad and import into the UK. There was also discussion on why there are so many installations problems within the industry, Nigel Ingram suggested there was too much blame placed on the end user, that there needs to be more ownership of mistakes and to learn from them if the industry is to move forward. This was the key theme throughout the morning, for the industry to move forward in any pursuit especially digitally we need to focus on trends and accept change as a good thing. But when accepting change we also need to learn from our past mistakes rather than continue to avoid them.

“Change comes from doing 100 things 1% better”, Sir Clive Woodward

Following lunch guests were treated to an afternoon speech from Sir Clive Woodward who continued the theme of change being necessary to move forward and how that worked for the England rugby team and the British Olympic team. Sir Clive’s talk looked at the 3F’s or 6F’s argument and interestingly the importance of an Australian dentist and his impact on working habits. He emphasised the effort of a whole team being behind any win and argued that talent is not enough but learning, calmness and hard work are needed to leverage it.

A special mention also goes to Chris Monson, of main sponsor Trend, who was awarded an Honorary Membership of BSRIA, becoming only the 8th person honoured. Chris accepted the award from BSRIA Chairman Leslie Smith and thanked the company as well as the industry.

A big thank you to all delegates that attended and the speakers who gave their time to the event. Also thanks to Sir Clive Woodward for being our afternoon speaker and rounding up a fantastic Briefing.

To download the presentations from the event go to BSRIA’s website.

ECO scheme – carbon reduction or wealth redistribution?

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

The issue of retail energy prices is now THE political hot potato.  The invisible green taxes attached to household energy bills have suddenly become glaringly revealed and politicians of all hues are now looking at these supplements as serious vote losers.  But are they such a bright idea anyway?

The question really is about the use of hypothecated funds harvested from energy bills and used to create a kind of wealth redistribution in favour of energy-poor households.  Under this scenario there is a transfer of wealth from richer households to improve the lot of lower earning households by improving the energy signatures of their homes. The ECO scheme is not so much a carbon reduction scheme as a wealth redistribution tool.   The scheme does however have the twin benefits of deriving a relatively secure revenue stream and, by increasing the costs to “donor” households, acts as an  additional incentive for them to be efficient with energy too.

The problem, as always, lies in the continued confusion between issues associated with energy (and cost) and the release of carbon.  If carbon is the real enemy (as I believe it is) then this scheme is at best sub-optimal.  This is because although renovation of homes will undoubtedly improve the comfort of energy-poor households there is little compelling evidence to me that the costs involved (including the not insubstantial cost of administering the schemes) provide the biggest carbon reduction bang for the buck.  This is partly because improvements in dwelling performance are likely to be taken as comfort gains rather than energy saving.

We have just seen that it has been necessary to use Chinese money and what is widely regarded as a substantial central support mechanism in the fixing of a strike price for generated new nuclear electricity in order to stimulate the building of new nuclear (non carbon generating) capacity.  It is the very high up-front costs of building these facilities that is the problem.  Would it not be better to use the ECO funds as cash support as  low carbon generation building programme – nuclear, wind, tidal or whatever gives the best CO2 return per pound?

by thinkpanama

by thinkpanama

This then begs the question as to who should fund the improvement of poor dwellings.  Actually this is not so much a carbon issue as a social equalisation programme.  In all normal circumstances this has historically been met from general taxation in the form of grants and I can see no reason why this should not be the case in the future.   Perhaps, rather than distributing a £200 annual winter fuel allowance this might better be used in improving dwelling energy (not necessarily carbon) performance.  The private market for Green Deal products simply does not seem to have become excited at adding debt to the household for what are perceived as intangible gains.  Households understand cash and a more direct approach to funding Green Deal improvements through this means or indeed other mechanisms such as stamp duty may be a more efficient means of getting to the problem homes.

In summary:  Use hypothecated funds, such as ECO for the purpose they were intended  – getting carbon out of the system.  Use the money to support the most cost efficient means of doing this irrespective of mechanism for delivering this objective.

Don’t confuse wealth re-distribution with carbon saving – it distorts process and gets caught up with political weather cocking.

What happens when the lights go out?

In July we posted a blog about whether the lights will go out in the UK. This blog discussed the startling fact that the peak demand on our electricity supply network is perilously close to the supply capacity. With this comes the real risk that consumers will be exposed to outages “blackouts” and voltage dips “brownouts”. There is debate about whether this could happen, Datamonitor’s director of energy and utilities research and analysis, Neil Atkinson has commented that in practice the lights won’t go out in the UK or at least not for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried or ignore the problem all together. He states that the Government hasn’t put sufficient contingency plans in place for the future of the UK’s supply and demand, that the Green Deal and the dwindling hopes of Nuclear power aren’t enough.

The ECA are less optimistic than Datamonitor. Bill Wright, head of energy solutions, states that the intended increasing reliance on wind power assumes that the UK as a whole will not be affected by periods of cold weather at the same time as minimum wind. This is something that has to be considered though, for if the UK were to suffer a harsh or long winter like we saw in 2012/2013 then there is a real risk that we could end up facing lights out this year or during any winter that is out of the ordinary.

Fuel poverty in England – 10 per cent, 1996 to 2011

Fuel poverty in England – 10 per cent, 1996 to 2011

There is also Ed Milliband’s pledge to freeze energy costs for customers to consider. Will this pledge speed up the process of blackouts and brownouts or it will have no impact at all? The government’s Fuel Poverty Report 2013 suggests there are already 4.8 million households in the UK that are already suffering with blackouts so Ed’s pledge won’t necessarily make any difference.

But what if it does? What will happen if the lights do go out?

BSRIA held a number of parallel workshops in June to discuss that possibility. The workshop covered the effects blackouts would have in the UK, the risks for business, the systems required, the continuity plans and what BSRIA will do. Here are some of the conclusions:

Effects of power outages

There are many potential effects that come with a long power outage. At the moment, most power outages don’t last more than an

An image of Channel 4's The Blackout

An image of Channel 4’s The Blackout

hour so there are minimal risks but the longer the outage, the more opportunity for chaos to ensue. The loss of power could lead to an increase in crime due to diminished security options e.g. alarms and security cameras leading to shops being broken into and civil disorder (a dramatization of the potential damage can be seen in Channel 4’s The Blackout). The country’s communication and transport systems would soon break down and there is a high risk to the economy due to closed businesses and lack of trade. There are few benefits to a power outage; the only redeeming effects being an increase in self-reliance and a chance for the standby power industry to shine.

Risks for business

If power outages have such an impact on society in general, then the risks to business are high as well, even more so due to the current lack of awareness in businesses. If they are unaware of the future problems, then they may well have made no contingency plan to keep their businesses running. Without a contingency plan, they face disruption to their work through either staff shortages (staff may be unable to get into work due to the breakdown of transport), or loss of process and equipment failure. If companies are dependent on computers or other technology, then they risk losing business or missing deadlines, resulting in damage to reputation and loss of profit.

Required systems and contingency plans

To help the UK prepare for the risk of future power outages, the workshop came up with some ideas for required systems and contingency plans that could help reduce the damage caused. Here are some of those. Firstly, education is key and more needs to be done to raise awareness. BSRIA is in a prime position to promote and facilitate this. Starting with the low-hanging fruit, buildings should make maximum use of natural light and ventilation to reduce base energy load. Critical areas or services need to be identified and ring-fenced to maximise the opportunity for them to run when other systems go down. There needs to be a way of controlling the amount of energy used in buildings and this is where energy services and building energy management systems could play a very important role. Incentives, such as variable tariffs from utilities, would encourage changes in consumer behaviour and more investment in smart technology. The debate over alternative fuels like shale gas needs to be had to assess its suitability and impact on the future of UK energy. Whilst standby generation may seem an easy option, and undoubtedly this will form part of the solution, it also needs to be highlighted that it cannot necessarily be relied on as a last-minute solution, for when the crunch comes, it will be in high demand and availability will plummet.

Continuity plans need to be made for a multitude of scenarios. The Government and businesses alike, need to prioritise the services

Graph taken from Bill Wright's presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

Graph taken from Bill Wright’s presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

they need most and make sure they are supported in the best possible ways. If blackouts are expected to become a regular part of our lives, then announcing them in advance will help companies to plan closures or change working hours. Companies also need to think about how their employees work; the fact is, we are highly dependent on technology like laptops and mobile phones. Without the means to recharge their batteries they quickly become redundant and we become unproductive, so companies need to think of alternative methods to keep their workforce useful – we may even have to resort to good old pen and paper!

What BSRIA could do

 From the workshops, it was suggested that BSRIA can help raise awareness and provide education on the subject. This could take a range of forms, and conferences, publications and guidance for continuity planning were just some of the activities suggested. BSRIA can also work with other organisations towards these goals to help limit the risks for everyone.

Is this the Real Answer for Cheap Green Energy?

Ever since the first serious concerns were raised about man-made climate change a generation ago the world has been caught on the horns of a dilemma. The choice has too often seemed to be between securing the kind of short-term economic growth which the developed world expects and the developing world desperately needs  on the one hand, and paying more now in order to secure the future of our world on the other.

It is small wonder that green energy solutions are still seen as something of a luxury accessory, perhaps affordable in times of prosperity, but pushed into the background at times of world recession, when achieving growth and combatting fuel poverty becomes an even bigger concern.

But could it be that a large part of the answer is beneath our feet, or that at least it might be: an answer that could have a huge impact on the UK as it already has had in similar countries. For once I am not  talking about fracking, but about something that has been around for a century, though the technology continues to evolve in exciting ways.

The heat network rests on the fundamentally simple idea of producing heat (or cooling) centrally, in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way, and then distributing this through highly insulated underground piping, to homes, offices, hospitals, factories and anywhere else that needs it. Often this simply taps into heat that would otherwise be pumped wastefully straight into the atmosphere.

Different measures could radically affect the growth of Heat Networks in the UK

Different measures could radically affect the growth of Heat Networks in the UK

 Such networks not only distribute heat but can store it, for hours or potentially  months, ironing out the wild and often unpredictable fluctuations in both and supply and demand and making it much more practicable to use ‘green’ power sources, such as wind or photovoltaic that are inherently unreliable, not to mention biofuels. Even where gas is still used there is scope for greater efficiencies, especially where the opportunity is taken to use generated combined heat and power (CHP)

 So why is it that this technology accounts for only about 1% of the UK’s current heating needs while in Denmark, with an only slightly colder climate, the figure is over 60%. In fact most European countries already make much greater use of this resource than the UK does, as do countries as diverse as China, Japan and the USA.

In fact the benefits of district energy are already recognised by many UK hospitals, universities and industrial plants and office complexes, frequently powered by CHP systems which offer added security of supply. So why has the residential sector been so slow up until now?

Part of the answer lies in how the UK population lives: predominantly in individual houses which are more expensive to connect, and in most cases owner occupied or privately rented, making it much harder to convert individual householders to heat networks. The relatively low rate of house building in recent decades hasn’t helped either. Gas prices that are low by international standards have also reduced incentives to innovate in this direction.

However the last few years have seen a sea-change, with far more new homes tapping into heat networks, especially new flats, spurred on partly by enhanced incentives from government and encouragement from local planners, but also by a growing Energy Services industry that is prepared to make substantial investments in order to make a long term return.

Here at BSRIA we have recognised this trend, and so decided that a fresh look at the UK district energy market was needed. The result is a report which examines the market, the main players and what has drawn them into the market. It also considers the main positive drivers along with the biggest barriers to future development, and what can be learned from experience outside of the UK.

Our research indicates that the UK District Energy market is already worth over £400 million annually (including capital investment), and that it is growing at the fastest rate in its history, so that we expect it to exceed £500 million by

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

2015).

The overview takes in different possible initatives on the part of national, and local government, as well as the EU, which could speed up development or hinder it, and at the key changes in technology which are likely to make a difference in future.

If you want to know how big this market is likely to be in two or five years’ time and what the prospects are for the future, then this should be an indispensible read.

To find out more about the report or to purchase it contact our Worldwide Market Intelligence team on 01344 465610 or wmi@bsria.co.uk

How to procure Soft Landings

BG 45/2013 Soft Landings procurement Guide

BG 45/2013 Soft Landings procurement Guide

BSRIA has just launched its latest guidance on the Soft Landings graduated handover process.   How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors is designed to help clients and their professional and building teams frame their Soft Landings requirements in a consistent and structured manner.

 The guide is a response to two clear trends in the use of Soft Landings. Primarily, clients aren’t sure what they are asking for when they call for it in tenders. Construction firms are seeing wide differences in client requirements. The initiated clients may spell it out, but for every expert client there are 20 who simply ask for Soft Landings without a clear idea of what it is.

 Many builders and contractors, particularly those not up with current thinking, are similarly clueless on how best to respond. That’s one of the downsides with an open-source protocol – the viral spread of Soft Landings is a good thing, but a lack of certification and control means that the uninitiated can easily catch a cold.

 Second, Soft Landings is being adopted by central government as a formal procurement policy. This is Government Soft Landings (otherwise known as GSL), a Cabinet Office-inspired interpretation of Soft Landings for government clients. While it’s not a million miles away from the official version published by BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust, GSL takes a more facilities management perspective of the process and focusses far more on getting guaranteed outcomes from the construction industry. GSL is slated to be mandated for central government projects in 2016, along with the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM), with which Soft Landings is well-suited.

 So what we have, then, are commercial clients still a little confused in their (voluntary) adoption of Soft Landings. On top of that is an incoming group of government clients, building anything from schools to prisons to aircraft hangers,  for whom Soft Landings is a huge unknown but who will be mandated to adopt it. BSRIA’s view is that it might be a good idea to lay out the best ways of expressing Soft Landings in client requirements, pre-qualification questionnaires, and invitations to tender, so that the clients and industry alike get greater consistency in Soft Landings projects from the very outset.  

 The procurement guide has benefited substantially from the Soft Landings User Group, a BSRIA-run team of clients, architects, consultants and contractors who have learnt from experience on Soft Landings projects what works well and what doesn’t. This learning has been used to create practical, generic requirements for Soft Landings activities that can be used in project documentation. 

 A body like the User Group is absolutely vital for the practical development of Soft Landings. BSRIA knows it doesn’t have all the answers, and in any case should not dictate how Soft Landings is put into operation on real projects. Each project has its own needs and objectives, and each form of procurement throws up its own set of opportunities and challenges. The trick is to find out what works in each context, and try and find ways round thorny issues like novation and cost-cutting for instance, both of which can compromise the best of intentions.

 The guide provides specifically-worded requirements for each step in each of the five stages of Soft Landings.  The guidance is split into three sections, with requirements worded for clients appointing professional designers, clients appointing main contractors/builders, and contractors appointing sub-contractors.  Inevitably, there is some repetition, but the guide gets round that at relevant points by referring the reader to sections in the guide where a specific requirement is more logically located. 

Stage 3 - Pre-handover

Stage 3 – Pre-handover

The example shown is typical. Energy metering installations are proving to be a major problem – they are installed to satisfy Building Regulations, but are often not set up in a way that makes them useful. Although the Soft Landings Framework calls for an energy metering strategy, the procurement guide goes a step further by spelling out what should be provided, in this case at the pre-handover stage. Each requirement is supported by explanatory text that gives the main contractor, in this instance, some background context and the reasons for the requirement.

 Some Soft Landings stages may have more than one worded requirement. Some optional requirements have also been provided, for instance in the aftercare stages where it may be important to spell out precisely who should be involved and for how long.

 For example, under the core requirements for main contractors appointing sub-contractors, contractors have the option of requiring a subcontractor to be retained to assist the client and other members of the project team during handover, and afterwards to monitor the building’s performance. Some sub-contractors may be required to be based on site full-time during the initial aftercare period to assist with end-user queries and to undertake fine-tuning of systems. This would not typically apply to a ductwork sub-contractor, but it would usually apply to a controls sub-contractor. More critically, it could apply to any contractor whose systems or components come with automatic controls, particularly those with bespoke communication protocols (seemly most of them) which can only be adjusted by the supplier after payment of a fat call-out fee. If you’re nodding at this point, you know how it is. The Soft Landings procurement guide now covers this issue, and many others like it.

 An opportunity has been taken to fill gaps in the Soft Landings Framework, published back in 2009 when practical experience was a bit thin on the ground. For example, the guide contains a generic design work stage which was not included in the Framework. The procurement guide also provides more detailed advice on principles of procurement and tendering, how to include Soft Landings in tender processes and interviews, and some advice on the best way to budget for Soft Landings.

 The timing of the guidance also coincided fortuitously with the publication of the 2013 RIBA Plan of Work, which gave BSRIA the opportunity to align Soft Landings stages against the new RIBA stages, and those published by the CIC. There’s also a public sector Soft Landings decision tree included to help government and local authority clients dovetail their procurement requirements with Soft Landings requirements.

 Building performance research is identifying many critical aspects of procurement where clients and the construction industry need to tighten up their respective acts. The commissioning manager is a critical role, and the earlier they can be appointed the better. The procurement guide offers some advice on how to do this, and what their role should be in Soft Landings.

 Soft Landings is not job in itself but a set of roles and responsibilities shared among the client and project team. However, on large jobs particularly a co-ordinator may be needed to make sure the administration is carried out. Paperwork – which could include updating operational risk registers in BIM models for example – needs to be done by someone. If this isn’t covered, Soft Landings might fail ‘for want of a nail’.

 BSRIA hopes that How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors will provide all that clients and project teams need to put Soft Landings into operation.  It is a practical guide to accompany the Soft Landings Framework – still the industry bible on what Soft Landings is about, and why you should adopt it.

 With all this talk about the performance gap between design and building operation, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the act of procuring a building and constructing it is a team enterprise. No-one goes into the process with the intention of doing a bad job.  Events, like many things in life, can conspire against it. What Soft Landings tries to do is provide toeholds for everyone involved to do a better job in the face of budgetary, time and skills pressures.  How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors provides a whole load more toeholds for everyone.

 BSRIA BG45/2013 How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors is available from BSRIA bookshop.

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