Conference 2021: Leadership Team roundtable discussion

16 Dec

Leadership Team roundtable discussion: ‘Ready and Willing’

Watch the full discussion here

The final session of the conference was a panel discussion with leaders from across the street works industry. Chaired by Street Works UK CEO Clive Bairsto, he was joined by Cadent COO Howard Forster, Northumbrian Water Director Keith Haslett, and Street Works UK Communications Working Group Chair Peter Jones.

Panellists in particular focused on how both their companies and the wider street works industry can work better to meet government objectives including building back better and levelling up. As well as this, they touched on critical issues to the industry that had already been covered in the conference such as decarbonisation and skills.

Kicking off the discussion, Howard Forster introduced himself and gave an overview of Cadent’s priorities, highlighting the actions they have taken to address these issues, as well as outlining what he saw as the future challenges he sees for both Cadent and the wider industry. Touching on the impact Covid-19, Howard emphasised how crucial street works had been in keeping the country going during the pandemic.

Regarding levelling up, Howard felt that it was initially about large new housing, transport and infrastructure projects in particular, but that the new Secretary of State Michael Gove had potentially looked to redefine this as being about making opportunities across the country more equal. Howard highlighted the work Cadent is doing on net zero and skills, with a ten-point plan on a hydrogen skills economy, and emphasised that the the two are intertwined. He said it was vital to ensure a just transition that does not leave people behind, and that it is crucial that the next generation of engineers are able to develop skills to enable net zero.

Picking up the discussion, Keith Haslett discussed the different challenges Northumbrian Water (NWG) face being focused in one region, but emphasised his agreement with Howard that these issues required long-term planning. On building back better, he said NWG look to 2040 and beyond, particularly in terms of anticipating what customer demand for water will be and what their needs are.

Keith highlighted a number of infrastructure pinch points NWG face, and made clear the critical importance of the industry in crisis events such as flooding. Further, he made clear that a key challenge for NWG, and indeed the industry, is finding the problems before the customer experiences them. He went on to say that specifically from a street works perspective, it is vital to find and solve these problems in a way that causes as little disruption to customers and the public as possible, and that harnessing new technologies is vital to doing this.

Peter Jones brought a wider perspective to the session, discussing how best the street works sector can engage with policymakers and the media. He highlighted it was important not just to engage with Westminster, but also with devolved governments, metro mayors and local authorities. Peter discussed how building back better and levelling up are likely to remain key phrases for as long as Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister, but noted that how these are defined and translated in practical terms can change across different government departments and as government priorities shift. With regards to levelling up, he saw a key role for street works in ensuring infrastructure is provided on an equal footing for all of the UK, not just geographically but from a socio-economic perspective as well.