Perspectives

The Farmer Report: the Government responds

Eight months after we were asked to ‘modernise or die’, the Government has responded to Mark Farmer’s report on the construction industry labour model. Mace's Mark Castle explores what it means for the sector.

The general tone of the Government's response is hard to miss – they’ll do what they can, but it’s over to us in the construction sector to help drive real change. 

Some may feel that their reply has been a bit slow to emerge and hardly the policy ‘big bang’ that they may have been hoping for. 
 
However, in our view it’s a very positive step. The Government has accepted nearly every recommendation made in the report – and in doing so has recognised the concerns that many in the industry have been trying to get taken seriously for many years. 
 
Could the Ministers have been more bullish in their response? Could they have gone further and accepted the report’s most controversial conclusion – a levy on developers? Certainly, although I have to admit that we weren’t expecting as much. 
 
That the Government is taking our labour problem seriously is a signal that could hardly have come at a better time, with many in the sector (including ourselves) already talking about the real challenges we’re facing around margins. 
 
By accepting in principle almost every proposal put forward in the report, the Government is now directly challenging us to do what we need to do to transform the market. 
 
The message is very clear: There’s nowhere to hide anymore. If we don’t make real progress on this, the Government says, we won’t be able to point towards a lukewarm response from them. We’ll only have ourselves to blame.  
 
Many of the measures originally outlined in the report are likely to be transformative for the sector. In particular, we’re excited to see the potential of a restructured and reformed CITB. Under the deft leadership of the newly permanent Chief Executive Sarah Beale, I’m sure that – if it survives the industry vote this autumn – we will see a real agenda for change emerge from the CITB. 
 
The support for the innovation agenda is also very helpful – although hardly a surprise, given how well it plays into the Government’s emerging industrial strategy. As an industry I really think we’ve finally started to pick up the baton in earnest here. 
 
We’re beginning to see some really transformative innovation emerge across the sector, from materials to design techniques to ever more ingenious and ambitious pre-fabrication approaches. As clients begin to understand more about what’s possible and build that understanding into their procurement, it’s likely that adoption will pick up pace. 
 
What’s pleasing is that many of these reforms are likely to drive the others; as many have recognised, the more diverse your workforce, the most readily you’re able to innovate. 
 
Indeed, as our research into social value recently found, by ensuring we maximise the social value from our projects we can address some of the challenges our industry is facing. The Farmer Report has provided a blueprint for us to address most of the issues we face, from skills shortages to delivering our infrastructure and housing pipeline, as well as maximising benefit for the wider economy.  
 
With the Government’s position now clear, it’s time for us all to band together and push forward a real drive for change. 

“The message is very clear: There’s nowhere to hide anymore.”

In conversation today

Mark Castle, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Construction

Mark Castle Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Construction

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