An industry-wide prequalification system, and better public education on how infrastructure is delivered, could bring significant benefits.
Peter Silcock, Chief Executive, Civil Contractors New Zealand
Last year was certainly an interesting one for local government. Events posed some big challenges around infrastructure assets and systems – from the water quality issues in Hastings, to large infrastructure planning in Auckland, to the impacts of the recent earthquakes on the infrastructure and economy of the Kaikoura region and buildings in Wellington.
We had some very stark reminders about how vulnerable we all are and the need to step up our disaster preparedness and build further resilience into our infrastructure.
With some of Wellington’s newer buildings (some with high earthquake ratings) not faring as well as expected in the earthquakes, work is required on our building standards and on how we measure performance and resilience.
We also need to further develop our emergency response systems using new technologies which can more reliably convey information and advice to the homes and individuals that need it most.
A graphic demonstration was the confusion about which parts of my home city Lower Hutt needed to be evacuated when the Civil Defence sirens sounded an hour or so after the Kaikoura earthquake. The confusion resulted in quite a few people who live outside the tsunami evacuation zones adding to the traffic congestion. With no plan about where people should or shouldn’t go it was chaos. The question no one seems to have answered (at the time of writing) is where is the best place to go to get reliable, up-to-date and accurate emergency information.
In the immediate aftermath of the quakes, talkback radio and social media seemed to fill the void. I know that we are advised to listen to the radio. But which station has the definitive updates the public requires?
Educate the public on infrastructure
The water quality issues in Hastings resonated across the local government sector last year. I am sure that newly-elected councils will have been briefed on the infrastructure systems that councils run, how risks have been assessed and are being managed.
For many councils, the desire to keep rates increases and debt in check has historically taken a higher priority than investing and upgrading critical infrastructure especially when much of it remains unseen until a major failure occurs.
We need to better educate the public about how the services that councils provide are delivered. The public needs to understand where their water comes from, how it gets to their house, what happens to the waste and stormwater, and how the infrastructure involved could be damaged by natural disasters. Plainly-worded information will lead to an improved understanding which will mean that the public are more likely to support more money being spent to improve the resilience of infrastructure.
It has been great to see councils and CCOs working to improve their procurement strategies, policies and processes during 2016. As an organisation, CCNZ is committed to representing our members in this discussion and promoting a healthy civil construction sector.
I encourage all local authorities to continue working with our branches and the contractors operating in your area to ensure that there is a healthy civil contracting Industry that is progressive, viable, safe, innovative and competitive. There is no doubt that a strong contracting industry will provide the best value for all customers including councils and ratepayers.
Industry-wide prequalification system still needed
The absence of an industry-wide prequalification system continues to be a huge gap in the New Zealand construction industry. It has been disappointing to see further fragmentation on this front during 2016. The proliferation of systems has continued to push up the costs of procurement. The result of the current situation is that construction companies are forced to subscribe to, and maintain, multiple systems.
One contractor recently told me they are working with 12 different prequalification systems. We need to start talking about industry-wide standardisation. Let’s hope that we can make some progress on this issue in 2017.
More progress on managing health and safety
Earlier in 2016 health and safety took centre stage with the introduction of the new Health and Safety at Work Act. The world did not end on April 4 and we are fortunate that WorkSafe under the very able leadership of Gordon McDonald did a good job of hosing down some of the rhetoric from some health and safety consultants around this.
The clear message was, and still is, that if you have a good system small tweaks are required. But if you don’t have a good system, the risk just got a lot bigger and it is time to make some changes in your business.
The launch of the construction industry’s “ConstructSafe” health and safety competency testing regime has been well received with over 2500 people having sat the test in its initial nine months.
Contractors and clients have welcomed having the assurance that the people on their sites know how to protect their own and their workmates’ health and safety. Contractors have praised the scheme because the feedback provided has enabled them to better target their investment in staff training and development.
Capital expenditure will keep rising
The demand for people with the right construction skills and experience continued to grow during 2016. The Treasury Capital Intentions plan released in October showed capital expenditure intentions from 2016 to 2025 of $100 billion: an average of $11.1 billion per annum. The plan confirms that the current infrastructure spend and workload will continue for some time yet. Both contractors and councils have an interest in ensuring we have enough people to build and maintain our infrastructure in the future. We need to attract more people to manage the increased workload and to replace our aging workforce.
At the end of 2015 CCNZ launched its Civil Trades regime, a trade qualification, for people working on our civil infrastructure. We are encouraging our members to support the scheme and have seen an increased number of people joining the industry to take up apprenticeships and work towards being a certified Civil Tradesperson.
As we head into 2017 it is time for councils to support this initiative by asking in their procurement documents for contractors to show how they are investing in the development of their staff. This will reward those who are investing in their people and give others a push to get involved. There are plenty of challenges and opportunities waiting for us all in 2017 and CCNZ looks forward to working with you all.
This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.