As a finalist in the SME of the Year category at the 2021 SECBE Awards, our Director, Michael Hoggart, was invited to be a speaker on the summit discussion panel, ‘SME – industry disrupter?’. Along with other finalists in the category, this was an opportunity to discuss SMEs and their impact within the construction industry. Has Covid been an enabler, rather than a crisis for these companies? Did we need this disruption to create a better industry?

The panel was led by Malcolm Clarke, Managing Director at Baxall Construction, who were also sponsors of the award.

A main point of discussion was around the recently released government initiative, the Construction Playbook and whether it’s likely this will have a real impact within the industry.

In summary, the initiative outlines ways the government will work with the construction sector to kick-start the economy as the country comes out of the pandemic. Endorsed by the Construction Leadership Council, the playbook looks into how public sector procurement can be standardised and is supported by a set of 14 principles, addressing the need for a best practice tendering process.

Will this help SMEs in the long-term? Yes (theoretically!). It means SMEs will be able to better prepare for procurement opportunities and know what is expected of them. It will also prepare them for any investment they may need to make to remain competitive against larger companies. Commercial pipelines looking 3 to 5 years ahead will also help SMEs to prepare for upcoming project opportunities.

Digitisation from SMEs has also played a huge factor over the last year, enabling them to be a disrupter within the industry. Thanks to the pandemic, SMEs have been forced to adopt digital technology faster than they maybe would have, without having to deal with Covid-19. SMEs are now able to rival larger firms with their access to and implementation of new technology. A mix of online and face-to-face meetings have allowed SMEs to retain their personal touch and tailored approach to projects yet become more time efficient through less travel to sites. Larger companies seem to have been doing things the same way for a while now, and this is the chance for SMEs to come in and change the industry for the better.

Relationships between clients and suppliers, not just in construction but all industries, are changing from transactional to a collaborative approach. A need for all stakeholders to be involved right from design and inception has become apparent and trust needs to be placed into suppliers, as the experts, by their clients. Too many times we have seen an emphasis on going with the lowest cost price from a tender, rather than quality. Clients need to adopt an ‘Outcome-based approach’, one of the 14 principles of the Construction Playbook, where they only focus on the outcome and allow suppliers to take the lead on processes and methods. It is suggested that this will be supported by ‘Should-Cost Models’ and benchmarking. Although many buyers are specifically looking for SMEs to tender for projects, many of the awards still go to large, multi-disciplinary consultancies. Perhaps the Construction Playbook could finally change this.

Similarly, as emphasis shifts from choosing the ‘cheapest option’ to the ‘most sustainable option’, which is often not the cheapest, SMEs have their chance to demonstrate their own CSR policies and how they make a real difference within the local community. Influence should be coming from local level, with suppliers being given more authority to make informed decisions regarding projects. At the end of the day, the suppliers are the professionals and should be respected as knowledgeable experts.

As Construction Consultants, we have considerable control over what materials are used and how sustainable a project can be. We have the knowledge and experience to suggest more sustainable construction methods and materials, ultimately ensuring projects can be executed sustainably, within budget and on-time. Modus have successfully incorporated sustainable practices and considered environmental impact on many of our projects and will continue to deliver and improve upon these professional services for both our public and private sector clients.

You can watch all 10 panel discussions at Constructing Excellence Awards | 2021 Summit (