Peter Reekie: Predictions for Scottish construction and infrastructure in 2024

Peter Reekie: Predictions for Scottish construction and infrastructure in 2024

Peter Reekie

Peter Reekie, chief executive at Scottish Futures Trust, looks ahead to what 2024 has in store for construction and infrastructure in Scotland, and sets out one area that all organisations should make a priority over the next 12 months.

The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again,” said Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at Davos in 2018. Construction and infrastructure organisations will feel that pace acutely in 2024.

The pipeline of future work and the economy will continue to dominate leadership discussions, with commentators predicting a flatline or slight contraction in the year ahead. My hunch is inflation will stabilise, but with the spike of the last two years generally baked in.

Civil engineering will stay resilient whilst housing and building will remain soft. Main contractors are still working through Covid and inflation overhangs, and supply chains remain precarious. PwC expects the construction sector to remain amongst the worst-hit for insolvencies in 2024.

Energy transition remains a priority for the environment and economy, with the Scottish Government predicting that Scotwind alone can deliver up to £25bn of investment across the supply chain. There must also be major private investment in the electricity grid, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, hydrogen production, storage and transportation. These sectors will thrive, with growing workloads for years to come. 

Housebuilding is an increasing social and economic priority, with several councils recently declaring housing emergencies. 2024 will bring a need for innovative financing and delivery structures, increased pace, and a focus on housing of all tenures as an economic enabler.

Public investment is increasingly being driven to maximising the useful life and climate resilience of existing assets over building new. An understanding that most buildings that will exist in 2045 already exist has led to initiatives like the extension of SFT’s Net Zero Standard for Public Sector Buildings to major refurbishments.

The shifting sands of budgets, priorities and politics will see affordability and pace become key priorities. The UK Construction Leadership Council has said better preparation – including speed of planning decisions and consistent leadership on scope - can be the single largest contributor to industry-wide productivity improvement, with £30bn of potential UK-wide.

Priorities for transformation of the construction sector will be set out in its Transformation Action Plan to be finalised imminently, and in my view competence and culture are central themes.  Competence is often underpinned by an apprenticeship, degree or professional qualification, but that’s not enough. It must be clearly evidenced and extend through careers. And while culture cannot be homogeneous across organisations, it must support and motivate people, whatever their background or position, to undertake the task in front of them to the best of their ability.

Some may feel that digitalisation and AI should merit a mention. My view is that whilst the early adopters are moving fast, the breakthroughs for our industry will come later in the decade. And of course in any of these areas, the substantial geopolitical uncertainty around the world may blow predictions and priorities off-track.

Finally, I’ll return to Justin Trudeau’s speech, where he encouraged every leader to hire, promote and retain more women, “not just because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do”.  There’s a priority that every organisation in our industries can act on in 2024.

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