BSRIA consulted in UK Construction Industry InquiryDecember 2007
Following concerns expressed by back benchers into the ability of the construction industry to deliver the volume of work that is envisaged in the next 5 years or so the Select Committee for Trade and Industry set up an Inquiry into the Construction Industry and invited stakeholders to submit written evidence against a short brief outlining the principal areas to be examined. Amongst the issues that were raised was the question of the health of the R&D activities that support construction. The government is well aware that construction is one of the lowest investors in R&D - being less than 0.5% of turnover and very rarely feature as "winners" in bidding for central funds to help improve the overall knowledge base.
Following Gordon Brown's accession to premiership, the DTI was remodelled and BERR (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) and the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of Peter Luff, MP for Mid-Worcestershire, also changed its name. The Inquiry is now in the phase of receiving oral evidence from a selected number of individuals and organisations drawn from over 40 written submissions that it received.
BSRIA has taken this Inquiry very seriously since it is the first opportunity that has been given since the release of the Fairclough report in 2002 to offer a considered view of the present position that construction finds itself in after the abolition of any focused funding for applied construction research. Working within the Research College of the Construction Industry Council (CIC), BSRIA, BRE and CIRIA prepared and submitted a paper to the Inquiry and were delighted to be asked to offer oral evidence on December 4th.
The general case that was made concerns the gap that exists between the well-funded and executed "blue sky" R&D that is carried out in universities, and the more prosaic "how to" information that is used in day-to-day operations. The latter used to be assisted by co-funding programmes of a variety of kinds - from agencies such as BRE (then a government body), CEGB and Electricity Council, and also from specific funds such as Partners in Innovation and projects supporting Building Regulations underpinning research. All but the latter have ceased and even the Building Regulations R&D has now diminished and is undertaken as non-collaborative frameworks.
The other major point raised was the loss of expertise that used to exist with the public agencies monitoring and understanding their building stock and using this operational knowledge to maintain codes and standards. The former PSA, British Gas and NHS estates used to be very significant "user" forces in BSI activity, now entirely lost and with it the embedded knowledge that used to be available to a wider industry.
The BSRIA Council very strongly indicated two possible solutions that could be considered to help remedy this "slow crisis" of deteriorating applied research output. They universally agreed that a much clearer point of government leadership was required to bring applied research in construction back into focus. They also agreed that some means of rebuilding the link between operational experience and design codes was necessary, especially given the accelerating pace of innovation to meet the sustainability demands of clients and legislation.
At the Inquiry, the research team offered a solution of redirecting some of the receipts from landfill tax, Carbon Levy and Aggregates levy towards a new programme, operated and directed out of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). OGC was chosen since it has a very clear role of creating best practice in procuring government construction projects and is best placed to leverage the huge spend (£40bn+) that is made in the public sector and, whilst it does not have a central procurement function, it is well placed to create a knowledge base of value both to the public and private sector.
Clearly the Inquiry has a massive task to carry out with a very wide range of issues to be covered from safety, capacity, value for money and sustainability. However, we believe the role of applied research touches all these matters and we hope that they will recognise the need to regenerate the knowledge base that has made UK the world's second largest exporter of knowledge based design expertise.
Click here for transcripts of oral evidence in this and other recent consultations.
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