Construction Leader: Peter Reekie keeps net zero at front of Scottish Futures Trust’s agenda

Construction Leader: Peter Reekie keeps net zero at front of Scottish Futures Trust's agenda

Peter Reekie

As the Scottish Futures Trust publishes its Business Plan for 2024/25, the SCN Construction Leader for May, Peter Reekie, tells Colin Cardwell that net zero remains firmly on the agenda at the organisation.

Peter Reekie laughs when he recalls his first work experience. It was certainly a somewhat different scenario than studying for his MEng among the “dreaming spires” – as writer Matthew Arnold described the University of Oxford.

“Then Allot & Lomax thought it would be amusing to send their summer placement student from Oxford to conduct drainage surveys for the [then] North West Water,” he says.

“So, my first job was in the sewers of Manchester and as it turned out I quite enjoyed it – so I re-joined that company after I graduated.”

Mr Reekie is now chief executive at Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) where he is “proud to lead a team of more than 70 talented, dedicated and fun professionals”.

A company and non-departmental public body wholly owned by the Scottish Government and working with organisations across the public and private sectors to plan infrastructure investment, innovate in the funding, financing and delivery of social and economic infrastructure, Mr Reekie joined SFT at its inception in 2009.

He was its first director of finance then deputy chief executive and director of investments, becoming chief executive in 2018. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and his background is that of a civil engineer.

In this, he followed a family tradition. “I’ve been in the business and known it my whole life. My father was regional manager for various contracting firms in north-west England,” he says.

“Having come to Scotland more than 20 years ago, I suppose I’ve got the zeal of a convert for the country,” he adds and though he’s speaking from his self-built tree house in Balerno, one suspects he hasn’t had much time recently for his hobby of working with wood.

Last month SFT published its Business Plan 2024-2025 which highlights its role as a centre of infrastructure expertise, the company working closely with public and private sector partners to maximise the benefits coming from their infrastructure projects.

Despite net zero minister Màiri McAllan recently confirming that the Scottish Government had scrapped its immediate climate change targets, the long-term goal to reach net zero by 2045 remains in place and Mr Reekie says SFT is committed to that, building up its existing net zero work in preparing the ground for large-scale private sector investment in heat networks and attracting further investment in electric- vehicle charging infrastructure.

Last month SFT also established a new workstream dedicated to infrastructure for the hydrogen economy which will complement the acceleration of the new types of infrastructure needed to support Scotland’s low carbon ambitions which are opening new opportunities for both investors and those working in the construction sector.

Mr Reekie also stresses themes such as the delivery of more affordable housing with partners from the islands to the borders and across Scotland’s cities – all activities which will create new potential for the construction sector and the country’s infrastructure.

With experience in both the finance and construction sectors, he has an expansive view of that infrastructure. After Allot & Lomax merged with Babtie Group in 2000 he progressed to PwC as an Edinburgh-based project finance and commercial advisor working at the public/private interface.

“In the finance area I became involved in developments such as the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in some early contracts, so I’ve had several years at the interface of people who understand money and people who understand the assets and I was able to gain some wider business finance experience at PwC,” he says.

“But what really excites me is working at these interfaces between different people, bringing them together to achieve the best result.

“While much of the public sector such as health and education tends to work in big silos we work right through from policy development to design and construction. Joining the dots and creating innovation through knowing how these things work together is what drives me – and it’s what SFT was set up to do.”

Crucial to this aim he believes is collaboration – sharing knowledge and experience to create resilient and thriving communities, with SFT taking a leading role in the Transformation Action Plan for the Scottish construction sector.

He says what differentiates the plan, which was launched by the Construction Leadership Forum, is that “it starts from the outcomes we’re trying to deliver for the businesses in the sector, for the current and future workforce, for the consumers and users of our products and for the environment and community.

“And that’s not just a series of individual improvement activities. All the stakeholders have agreed the outcomes we want and a big part of that – for the environment and the communities involved – is to be a net-zero industry.

“This will involve innovation and change, whether it’s installing energy efficiency measures and improving the heating in buildings right through to massive offshore wind deployments and the grid connection.”

It also, he says, will involve taking removing diesel machinery and different, more modern methods of construction, achieving more off site. “And we’ll be travelling less, thus lowering embodied carbon and working toward the circular economy and waste reduction.”

Net zero spans the whole industry, and has implications for every business, whether they be designers SME, or a main contractor, he adds.

“Our Net Zero Buildings team is working with partners on the decarbonisation of the built environment, trying to work out the implications for the industry and to draw together the disparate bits of guidance and initiatives already in place to open a window for the construction and related industries on what they’re going to be in the future.”

A very practical aspect of what SFT is aiming to achieve that “all this will only do good if is improving the lives of people in the industry and the lives of people who want to come into the industry in the future.

“It’s such a diverse industry, from the tradesperson working in the Highlands and Islands to a tier one contractor for a multinational in the central belt so we must try to keep that diversity in mind.”

He concedes that there are areas in which the industry can improve but was pleased when Joe Philipsz was recently appointed as the new chair of SFT, taking over from Ian Russell and described as “a highly respected infrastructure financier who brings a valuable international perspective to the role alongside his merchant banking background in the UK and European markets”.

And he believes that the construction sector has much to be proud of: “This is an industry of the future where people will have great careers, whether they’re practical or creative people who will contribute to the net-zero future of Scotland.

“I think there’s sometimes a tendency for us to be a bit downbeat. I think we need to talk ourselves up a bit more as an industry and I see part of my job as helping to do that and being positive. Yes, it’s an industry that can get better but it’s also a fabulous one.”

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