Homes England are taking the lead in improving accessibility for SMEs to the housing projects that they and other public authorities have in the pipeline. This should be praised for so many reasons.
A lot of SMEs are likely to be more geographically focused, meaning that their workforce may well come directly from the areas immediately surrounding the sites. As well as creating a closer connection between developers and their projects, this could have a more personal impact on the workers themselves.
Traditionally the UK construction workforce has been mobile, travelling substantial distances daily (or simply spending the working week away from families). As we have seen during the pandemic, the lack of a commute for many has meant a better work/life balance, and why wouldn't be the same for the construction industry.
Using a workforce largely from the same catchment as the housing projects will also bring new employment opportunities to the locality. Aside from the obvious economic benefits that increased employment brings, this will also enhance the experience and expertise of our construction workforce right across the country. If we are going to 'Build Back Better', then this is a positive step towards it.
Finally, I would like to think that having a larger variety of delivery partners can only improve the quality of housing (which is increasingly under fire in the media). SMEs are by their very nature smaller, perhaps more dynamic, and often innovative companies - giving them an easier route to helping solve the housing crisis can surely only be a good thing when it comes to placemaking for our homes and communities.
Of course, the real challenge now is to change the way stakeholders - including public bodies - value their investments. If they want to maximize the benefits of having a more dynamic and progressive group of delivery partners, then the above social metrics must be given a value far higher than simply choosing the lowest priced bid. The Value Tool Kit from the Construction Innovation Hub should be the "go to" start point
Whilst social value is absolutely key here it is not entirely clear how this approach by Homes England equates with the Cabinet Office Construction Playbook (published 8 December) and its encouragement of modern methods of construction and project aggregation.
SMEs bidding to deliver smaller sites will benefit from simpler entry criteria whereas the entry criteria for developers bidding to deliver larger strategic sites will be proportionately more testing. Larger developers will be expected to demonstrate leadership around issues such as design quality, building safety and improving equality and diversity in the industry. House builders will be able to tailor their membership to express interest in specific locations or types of development to give the agency the ability to more effectively market sites to interested parties. Throughout the lifetime of the DPS, housebuilders will be able to apply to enter new categories and amend their membership, giving SMEs the ability to take on more ambitious schemes as they grow.