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Offsite report calls for ‘radical overhaul’ of construction

22 July 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

The construction sector needs a “radical overhaul” and will struggle to meet the UK’s need for housing and infrastructure if it does not change.

That’s the warning in a new House of Lords report, which examined the industry’s use of offsite manufacture and the level of productivity within construction.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee urges the government and the construction industry to “urgently find solutions”, warning that UK construction lags behind other countries in terms of productivity while at the same time facing a labour shortage.

In the report, Offsite Manufacture for Construction: Building for Change, the committee argues that offsite manufacture could help increase productivity, as well as the quality and efficiency of buildings, while reducing labour demands and the environmental impacts associated with traditional construction.

However, take-up of offsite manufacture has been varied and limited because the construction sector is working with outdated and unsustainable business models that are not conducive to offsite manufacture, the report warns.

The committee says “much of the evidence” it heard painted a picture of a fragmented industry lacking in trust, when collaboration between clients, designers and contractors was required to make offsite manufacture work.

It also heard that the different skills required for manufacturing are currently lacking in the UK labour market and must be developed.

While it welcomed the government’s Construction Sector Deal and its stated “presumption in favour” of offsite manufacture, it called for the development and publication of a series of key performance indicators against which the success of the presumption in favour can be assessed. 

Where the presumption in favour is set aside and a project goes ahead without the use of offsite manufacture, the government should publish a statement explaining why it has not been used and justifying that decision, the report recommends.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Patel, said: “There are clear and tangible benefits from offsite manufacture for construction which make a compelling case for its widespread use. We heard evidence that OSM could increase productivity in the sector by up to 70%.

“The construction sector’s business models are no longer appropriate and are not supporting the UK’s urgent need for new homes and infrastructure. The construction sector needs to build more trust and create partnerships so that companies can work together to improve the uptake of offsite manufacture, and the Construction Leadership Council should provide the necessary leadership.

“The role of the government and the wider public sector is pivotal in a move to greater use of offsite manufacture. The report sets out actions that the Committee thinks the government should take, including implementation of the Construction Sector Deal, committed execution of the ‘presumption in favour’ of offsite manufacture and a greater move to procuring for whole-life value rather than lowest cost.”

The construction sector’s business models are no longer appropriate and are not supporting the UK’s urgent need for new homes and infrastructure. – Lord Patel, Chairman, Lords Science and Technology Committee