VIDEO | Are partnerships the key to levelling up?

The government’s Levelling Up mission could be under threat due to growing economic pressures. Can public-private partnerships save the day? This roundtable discussion, hosted by Morgan Sindall Construction, set about finding the answer.

Held at the University of Salford, the roundtable really dug deep into how levelling up is threatened by rising inflation, the increasing costs of materials, and pressures on the supply chain. Participants shared their own experiences, pointing out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to addressing these issues in a partnership.

The discussion, which you can also watch on Place North West’s YouTube channel, was hosted by Place North West deputy editor Julia Hatmaker.

The participants were:

  • Jason Challender, director of estates and facilities at University of Salford
  • Daniel Cadman, regional director at Faithful+Gould
  • Barry Roberts, managing director of the North West at MorganSindall Construction
  • Cathy Palmer, head of regeneration delivery at Wirral Council
  • Sandra Robinson, technical director of strategic growth at WSP
  • Mike Horne, regeneration projects manager at Liverpool City Council
  • Peter Dentith, head of projects at University of Salford
  • Tom Webber, senior development surveyor at Muse Developments

Key talking points:

Barry Roberts: “It’s well-documented that inflation and skills and resources and availability of people to do the work is a bit of an issue – as well as viability of schemes. That’s what’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue. The conversations that we’re having every day are [focused on] making sure that we’re supporting the supply chain through this because they will be experiencing price increases.”

Cathy Palmer: “One of our asks at the moment is to ask government to start to think around recognising [sustainability and social value] outputs as part of projects as we’re building business cases. Say, for instance, green credentials. When we’re struggling with making a project have a sort of a decent BCR, have we got that sort of enough headroom in that project to be able to add 10% onto the cost to allow us to reach zero net carbon… We are increasingly seeing that appetite come through from government for a bit more flexibility and a bit more of a placemaking approach to doing regeneration.”

Mike Horne: “We started off the conversation with levelling up. And I think that is where agendas and programmes like that from government are going to help because prior to the COVID pandemic, certainly prior to this super inflation… viability issues and schemes in core cities were already a challenge. These super costs and inflation – they are unprecedented, as Barry said. It’s just going to make those viability gaps even more challenging.”

Jason Challender: “We’ve been working with Morgan Sindall for four years now, with two years of one project on site, and another project, which is about a year on site. It’s been an amazing relationship on two really challenging projects, challenging in all sorts of ways: viability gaps, tight budgets. We really embed the philosophy of partnering and collaboration. A lot of people pay lip service to the words ‘collaboration’ and ‘partner’. This relationship was built on trust. It was built on the premise of open budgets and actually putting the problem on the table and saying, ‘Right, that’s what we’ve got. How are we going to get there?’ and trusting each other in that pursuit.”

Sandra Robinson: “When we are looking at schemes, we bring in people that can look at the cost very, very early so that we know when this scheme gets to construction it’s valuable, it’s future proof.”

Peter Dentith: “I think it’s also very, very important to have the right soft-skilled people involved on all sides because not everybody is a natural collaborator. In the past, it’s been an adversarial industry. A lot of contracts are written like JCT, it’s what to do when bad things happen. It has to be a fully [collaborative] multidisciplinary team all working together.”

Tom Webber: “The collaboration point is very much around listening. And I think we’ve got better at that as an industry. I think when you take the time to listen and truly understand, that’s what then translates into really good partnership.”

Dan Cadman: “Market testing is going to be absolutely the key to challenge inflation. But it’s also going to be absolutely key because the experts in design are not just the design consultants, but the people who build it. They’ve got to be on board straightaway.”

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‘Levelling up’ is a dead government talking point. They will have a new empty slogan in no time.

By Born in Bred

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