Latest updates to the Construction Playbook – an ongoing journey

13 minute read
19 October 2022

In September 2022, the Government issued an updated version of its Construction Playbook (co-developed and endorsed by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC)). As we reported in our earlier insight, the Construction Playbook was originally published in late 2020 and is intended to serve as a blueprint to drive positive change in the construction industry and ensure public works projects are delivered "better, faster, safer, and greener".

We consider below some of the key changes, as well as the extent to which the updated Playbook:

  • seeks to build on the strategic imperative of the original Playbook to improve the way the public sector delivers projects and programmes and to support better informed contracting with the private sector; and
  • implements the recommendations set out in the Cabinet Office report "Constructing the Gold Standard: An Independent Review of Public Sector Construction Frameworks" (also known as the "Mosey Report"), which we explored in this insight.

Has the journey to embedding the Playbook into our ways of working been successful so far, and will it need to be adapted further to address the challenges that are facing the construction industry at the end of 2022? And what are the further hurdles to embedding the approach of the Construction Playbook and delivering its implementation programme?

What has changed, and what remains the same?

The 14 policies set out in the original Playbook are maintained. There have, however, been updates across several of the 14 policies, as well as the inclusion of detailed guidance notes as to how the policies are to be practically implemented. Notably, the Playbook now also refers to:

  • The Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA), which received Royal Assent earlier this year. Updates have been added in respect of the increased accountability for safety throughout the lifecycle of a building, as well as to take account of the more stringent building control regime and approvals process that will apply to higher-risk buildings as a result of the BSA.
  • Its goal to deliver the ambitions set out in "Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030". This roadmap was published by the Infrastructure & Projects Authority (IPA) in partnership with the CLC on 13 September 2021, and builds upon the publication of Transforming Infrastructure Performance in 2017. The roadmap articulates the IPA's vision for 2030 and the changes that will be required to achieve it. The roadmap encompasses five "focus areas" which echo many of the Playbook's policies and include, for example:
    • addressing the need for social infrastructure using platform approaches – which aligns with policy 4 (harmonise, digitise and rationalise demand); and
    • retrofitting existing buildings to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – which is in line with the increased focus, in the updated Playbook, on the Government's net zero commitments.
  • The "Social Value Model", published in December 2020: a model to be used in all central government procurement to maximise the additional social benefits that can be achieved in the delivery of its contracts. The updated Playbook has an increased focus on embedding social value, by putting improved quality, safety, performance and reduced environmental impact at the heart of programme delivery.

Chapter 1 – Pipelines, Portfolios and Longer Term Contracting

As noted above, the Playbook is now accompanied by new supporting guidance notes. Chapter 1 now includes reference to guidance notes on:

  1. "Promoting Net Zero Carbon and Sustainability in Construction", which forms part of the toolkit for achieving the Government's Net Zero Target of a 100% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This guidance note is required to be applied by all central Government departments and their arm's length bodies (ALBs) on the same "comply or explain" basis as the Playbook itself.
  2. "Longer Term Contracting Programmes, Projects and Portfolios in Construction" which builds on Chapter 1 of the Playbook and policies 1 (commercial pipelines) and 2 (market health and capability assessments). While recognising that long term contracting is not always appropriate, the guidance note describes scenarios and case studies where it may be effective.

Chapter 2 – Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)

Chapter 2 now includes reference to the new guidance note on "Modern Methods of Construction". The MMC guidance note provides more detail on the "commercial and contractual elements required" to deliver projects using platform approaches and MMC. It aims to "aid commercial, legal and project delivery professionals to make these changes to the way they work in practice, to deliver using platform approaches and MMC". The MMC guidance note also sets out a "best practice case study" for the use of MMC.

In respect of the definition and further detail on "platform approaches", the updated Playbook now refers to the "Platform Rulebook" published by the Construction Innovation Hub. The description of "platform approaches" has also been updated to refer to the "kit of parts, production processes, knowledge, people and relationships required to deliver all or part of construction projects."

Chapter 3 – Early Engagement and Clear Specifications

As we previously observed, the contractual framework in the construction sector is typically multi-layered and involves employers contracting directly with main contractors at Tier 1, who then in turn engage Tier 2 sub-contractors, who then sub contract with Tier 3 suppliers, etc. As a result, the risks and issues affecting contractors at the bottom end of the supply chain are often not passed up the chain to main contractors. This impacts on the ability to deliver on many of the Playbook's policies. Policy 6, Early Supply Chain Involvement (ESCI), is intended to address these issues.

This policy, and Chapter 3 of the Playbook, have been strengthened by the inclusion of further supporting guidance in the "Market, Supplier and Supply Chain Engagement in Construction Guidance Note". This describes several different contracting options that facilitate ESCI including two-stage open book, integrated contracts, sub-alliances (e.g. FAC-1 Contracts) within portfolios or frameworks (together with a case study where this has been put into practice), and contracts with the Tier 2 and 3 supply chain.

Chapter 6 – Effective Contracting

Use of frameworks: as we reported here, the Mosey Report set out 24 recommendations or "Gold Standards" for improving economic, social and environmental value through frameworks, framework contracts and action plans under current frameworks. These "Gold Standards" closely align with the policies of the Playbook. Chapter 6/Policy 10, Effective Contracting, has been updated to note that the updated Playbook endorses all 24 recommendations set out in the Mosey Report.

"Project/Programme Outcome Profile": the "Project Scorecard" has been renamed the "Project/Programme Outcome Profile" (POP) and a template, guidance and training were published by the IPA in 2021.This will address concerns that, despite strong support for the Scorecard to be embedded in future contracting and procurement, there had initially been very little detail or guidance as to how the Project Scorecard should look.

Greater collection and sharing of ground investigation data: as reported by the Government's Geospatial Commission, the updated Playbook now also includes standardised clauses about ground investigation data that can be used by all public sector organisations (Model Clause - Subsurface data sharing) These clauses have been developed by the Geospatial Commission, British Geological Survey (BGS) and the IPA, and require public sector projects to share newly acquired ground investigation data as soon as reasonably practical with the BGS. Having better records of historical borehole data (around 80% of which is currently not reported to the BGS) will undoubtedly benefit the construction industry, not only by offering time and costs savings by avoiding repeat ground investigations. For example, it will allow parties to make more informed decisions about ground risk and cost, and should reduce instances where projects are delayed by unforeseen ground conditions.

So what challenges stand in the way of further embedding the approach of the Construction Playbook?

The challenges faced by the construction industry and the public sector when the Playbook was first published still exist, or may in some instances even have become heightened, as of the date of its first revision in September 2022:

  • The lack of resourcing, knowledge and skills (and access to training) needed to properly implement the policies set out in the updated Construction Playbook and the Mosey Report's recommendations – with labour shortages in particular having been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit – and with an increased focus on material shortages / inflationary pressures;
  • How to encourage and increase use of the Playbook by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and regional government – as yet there has been very little take-up at local authority level; and
  • The difficulties in engaging the sector's supply chain to apply the Playbook's principles – as noted previously, it is ultimately at subcontractor level and below that the technical skills and experience needed to facilitate progress predominately reside.

Whilst the increased guidance – and particularly the case studies – accompanying the updated Playbook go a long way to enable the Playbook's vision to become reality, more real-life examples of the benefits of the Playbook's use in practice, in particular where it has been applied on smaller, local projects, would be welcome. It is also positive to see that the Playbook is being treated as the 'bible' for best practice, bringing together research, resources and guidance from across the sector.

If you are interested in discussing the updated Construction Playbook further and/or any questions it may have raised in relation to contracting in and with the industry and public sector, please contact partner Ruth Griffin.

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