Four months on from the announcement of a Construction Sector Accord, tangible benefits are being felt as senior Government and industry leaders work on real solutions to sector issues, write co-chairs Peter Reidy from Fletcher Construction and Chris Bunny of the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment.
What does it really mean when 24 voices from across Government, industry, unions and professional bodies come together to work on shared solutions for a sector of national importance: Talk-fest?Barrow-pushing? A litany of hobby horses and historical grievances aired with little hope of a shared agenda?
All of these were possible when the new Construction Sector Accord was announced in April, bringing together some of the country's most senior public service chief executives to work on construction issues with 20 industry chiefs who saw the urgent need for change, backed by six Government Ministers determined to make it happen.
But four months in to the formation of what is an unprecedented panel of changemakers in a challenging sector, tangible benefits are being felt that will in time see ripple effects throughout the infrastructure ecosystem in New Zealand.
Around the table is the Director General of Health, the Secretary for Education, heads of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury's Infrastructure Transactions Unit plus senior leaders from the country's top construction and architectural firms, union chiefs, industry associations and three of the industry's core customers.
Remarkably it is common issues, shared goals and a desire to get it right that is setting a strategic path towards creating a fairer and more transparent sector for the good of all New Zealanders.
Far from being the "talkfest" many predicted, the Accord is creating direct and open dialogue in partnership with the Government that is already having an effect on risk allocation, risk management, quality control and future investment plans.
There is the commitment from Government — with its $10 billion annual construction spend — to be a better client. That is seeing new contracts with fairer and more transparent risk allocation and without the 50 pages of special conditions. This will be backed by the new Government rules of sourcing which go live on October 1 and include a much greater emphasis on whole of life pricing and cost.
There is now an achievable, transparent pipeline of Government work, growing steadily in line with the market's ability to deliver and on which the new Infrastructure Commission will build, bringing longer term thinking across sectors for transformational programmes of work.
We are sharing with each other our issues, and our desire to behave differently from the past, as can be seen in the major construction player who recently declined a significant contract because of the unfair risk allocation.
Skills and training is another major area of focus, with Government partnering in a new programme of work to ensure the right vocational training is happening with the right people at the right time.
Why does this all matter? Construction, a once-fragmented boom and bust industry, is critical for the prosperity of all New Zealanders. It employs 10 per cent of the population, is 7 per cent of GDP. Our exporters, cities, ports, airports, water users, commuters and communities rely on the construction industry every day. It is essential for the nation's productivity yet historically Government and industry have thrown any problems at each other. That has changed, as has an industry determined to do better. There is now a collective sense that to fix it we have to do things differently, and together.
While the Construction Sector Accord steering group has been meeting monthly and with Ministers six weekly, none of this work is happening behind closed doors. Next month we begin industry engagement workshops to highlight the nine initiatives in four key areas that we believe will really move us forward. By December we will have a published mobilisation workplan and agreed next steps with Government, all coordinated by a resourced project team.
Many of us involved in the Accord have been part of similar workgroups in other industries. None has been as productive and practical.
In bringing these often fragmented groups to the table to form an aligned view on what must be fixed and how to do it, we have seen how much we all have in common — and how together we can drive a more productive, safe and sustainable sector.
As the Accord's vision says: "The wellbeing of New Zealanders is supported by ... a productive, capable, resilient and proud sector."