A Vision for Value – inspiration and perspective at the North East England Construction Summit 2022

We really enjoyed the North East England Construction Summit 2022, hosted by CENE’s OneVoice at Ramside Hall last month. As Tim Bailey, the Chair of CENE said in his opening address, the day was “a whirlwind trip through what’s happening in the region and what people are thinking about in the medium and long-term future.” Given the huge range of construction-linked companies represented in the room, it really was a whistlestop tour of ideas and reports, contextual overviews and discussion points.

Mark Reynolds, Group Chairman of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) gave a rousing introduction describing the challenges we are all too aware of in 2022, with rising energy and materials costs, a gloomy economic outlook and political turmoil creating market instability and anxiety across the globe. However, he pointed out that although we undoubtedly face challenges, it’s also a time of huge opportunity and excitement for the construction industry. We urgently need to adopt better business models, for example off-site manufacture, to address other industrial challenges such as low productivity and fluctuating quality of product.

There were signs of hope, especially from regional representatives like Helen Kemp from Tees Valley Combined Authority who described the Tees Valley as a thriving hub of industrial growth. Dr Henry Kippin from the North of Tyne Combined Authority which comprises Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside local authorities spoke of the growing realisation that “this ‘levelling up’ is not going to happen through public money.” His priorities include long term cross regional programmes like the Tyne Taskforce, the Northumberland Line, 5G digital connectivity, the Green New Deal, child poverty and need for deepening devolution to achieve this.

The themes of the day were timetabled into four sections; Value, Climate, People and Innovation. Many thought-provoking ideas were outlined and we will return to cover some of these themes to work out how they apply to us as an SME over the next few months but it seemed that certain underlying messages kept cropping up, no matter the context. Firstly, the pressing need to work towards Net Zero and increase biodiversity. Secondly, industry collaboration and idea sharing to solve global problems on a more collective scale. Thirdly, adoption of digitisation and MMC to deliver more consistent outcomes. Some examples of all of these were outlined, many too risky or costly for an SME contractor to invest in in the short term. But the point of events like these is to disseminate thinking and best practice around the industry so we can adopt what we can now and prepare for potentially seismic change at what is going to be, as Mark Reynolds put it, “a defining moment for our sector.”