Private sector could fill Whitehall skills vacuum, says minister

Paul Deighton

Lord Deighton says industry needs ‘more certainty’

The government’s new infrastructure chief has raised the prospect of an “infusion” of private sector project experts into the government in order to fill a vacuum in the skills needed to deliver low-carbon and major infrastructure projects.

Speaking at Ecobuild this week, commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Deighton said “one of the first things” he had embarked upon since joining the government in January was a capability review of the major government departments that have infrastructure responsibilities “to see that we actually have groups of people working on these projects, who have commercial project management type skills”.

He said: “Everybody currently in those areas would concede there is a deficit, so we have to get that right, either by training people up, or having an infusion of private sector capabilities, so we have the same kind of energy focus, and delivery orientation that a private business would.”

Asked specifically whether the government had the leadership in place to roll out the lessons on sustainable construction learned from the Olympics, Deighton, who was chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said: “I have a very simple view of leadership which is there is never enough of it. Just about anything has a leadership vacuum, this is frankly no different.”

Deighton’s capability review is designed to ensure the government has the skills to implement its programme of major infrastructure projects, and comes after the launch of a programme at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School last year aimed at training senior civil servants to be more effective major project leaders.

Deighton also said the industry and government needed more certainty over when projects will be delivered and that he was hoping to use the construction pipeline to provide that clarity.
He said: “When I arrived in government, I asked: ‘Where’s the programme? Is there a list of projects? Do they have a beginning date, an end date? Are they financed? Do they have milestones?’ It needs a fair bit of work.”

“We need to be clear about what we want to accomplish and how we’re going to get there, so people [in government and in industry] can do their own planning.

“With something as big and as complicated as government, actually sorting that out, and providing that clarity, is a complicated task, but I think the principles of saying what we’re going to do, by when, and constantly pushing towards that degree of rigour […] that’s certainly the direction we’re heading in [with the pipeline].

Deighton was speaking at an Ecobuild breakfast event organised by Building and Barbour ABI, at which Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith also detailed what the government was doing to improve its pipeline of construction work.

In September 2012 the government transferred control of the construction and infrastructure pipeline databases to Barbour ABI. The firm is owned by UBM, which publishes Building.



This story first appeared on Building

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