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In May, the Queen marked the state opening of Parliament with a speech that outlined the Government’s priorities for the year ahead. This included a range of Bills carried over from the previous ‘session’ alongside new laws which are hoping to be passed in the coming year to help create a stronger and more prosperous UK.

Focus for this parliamentary year is heavily centered around the environment, with COP26 and G7 taking place this year in the UK, alongside rebuilding the nation after the Coronavirus pandemic. This is through “levelling up” – aimed at boosting the skills and job market as well as introducing a Planning Bill which will increase infrastructure works to build new homes, schools and hospitals.

James Maclean, CEO of leading wet civil engineering firm Land & Water has taken a closer look at the key points highlighted in the Queen’s Speech to identify what impact this will have on the construction and civil engineering industries.

The Environment Bill

The Environment Bill has been repeatedly delayed, however now, with post-Brexit principles and targets put in place, it is due to be passed which is great news as we look to build towards a net zero future.

With the creation of an independent Office for Environmental Protection, the Government is investing in green industries to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 whilst setting legally binding environmental targets that aim to protect the nature and environment around us.

As a company which looks to maintain and enhance the UK’s waterways whilst also adding value to the areas in which we work, we believe this Bill is critical in order to safeguard nature, the environment and clean up our air.

The construction and civil engineering industries are one of the key producers of CO2, that’s why it’s vital we work collectively to address the issue and tackle climate change – it’s about thinking strategically to streamline working practices and introduce a carbon reduction agenda.

A carbon reduction strategy can identify low energy consumption operations which can bring about positive behavioral and environmental change, whilst building in biodiversity to protect future eco-systems.

Firms now have the opportunity to look at how they deliver projects – do they actually need to deliver them or can they incorporate ‘little and often’ operations using digital mapping and AI, as an example, rather than heavy, footprint campaigns. On one of our most recent projects, Land & Water reduced the use of heavy equipment with alternative materials whilst negating the need for cement to be used in the works to prevent tanker deliveries. By doing this, we saved 75% of construction carbon and 72% whole carbon whilst reducing the overall carbon footprint by 7,350 tonnes, an achievement we are incredibly proud of.

We also look to use HVO fuel as an alternative to diesel as it is a fully biodegradable biofuel which uses hydrogen to promote a cleaner-burn, straight carbon chain. This means it is FAME Free so it doesn’t cause degradation in time and ultimately block fuel filters.

Building in nature, to create a habitat within the infrastructure to encourage Net Biodiversity Gain and carbon sequestration at the point a company has infringed, is also incredibly important to consider. This helps to further safeguard our planet for years to come.

I would wholeheartedly recommend considering these processes to support net zero.

Procurement Bill

The law to simplify procurement in the public sector is due to come in to place in September after the Government’s green paper on procurement reform closed in March.

As a provider of highly skilled and niche services within the civil engineering sector that enhances both built and natural environments, any action and legislation that can ease the process of bidding for Government tenders is good news.

Our industry is often asked to balance value for money with social value whilst having one eye on the future and the Government’s ambition of achieving net carbon neutrality by 2030. However, these three factors can, on occasion, conflict with one another. Therefore, in order for SME level contractors to be truly competitive with large Tier 1 contractors we need clarity on which of these is of most importance when it comes to awarding contracts.

Delivering social value, whether it be working with local businesses to create jobs, increasing biodiversity through natural habitat creation or developing green spaces for local communities comes with a price tag. If we want to deliver the very best version of these concepts it should be invested in, however this might not be the ‘cheapest’ solution. Similarly, if we are to achieve carbon reduction then contractors will need to upgrade their machinery, switch from fossil fuels to renewables and find low carbon alternatives to everyday products. This too will require funding.

The new Procurement Bill will need to outline clearly how the Government will strike a balance between its differing objectives when awarding contracts, however we are fully on board with its goals.

‘Levelling up’

Proposed new legislation aims to provide UK citizens with access to lifelong skills and training to create and support the jobs market whilst regenerating communities as the Government terms it ‘levelling up’ alongside investment programmes targeted at bolstering infrastructure.

Working in an industry which has experienced a skills shortage for a number of years, this legislation is welcomed with open arms however we need to make sure that there is clear guidance which addresses the changes in working practices after the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, as an employer, how can we best support our team when there is great impetus on flexible working and the need for health and safety provisions.

There also needs to be greater understanding around the apprenticeship levy. Land & Water is committed towards investing in the future of the next generation and we have an ongoing apprenticeship programme which has seen many young people flourish in their careers and we are exceptionally proud to have more than 10 families working in the business. However, during the past year many firms have been reluctant towards making long-term financial decisions with fewer apprentices being hired. If we are going to close the skills gap then we need to be looking to support greater change.

The Queen’s Speech highlighted a range of reforms much needed to build back our economy after the Coronavirus pandemic however going forward civil engineering and construction firms need clarity from the Government that their needs are being heard and addressed if we are going to create positive impacts for our future.

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