Stephen Cavanagh of Mott MacDonald describes 2014 as a major improvement on previous years. Confidence is growing in two areas. The first is the public sector. “There are continuing spend moratoria in some service areas,” he notes. “And there are ongoing issues with ConsultancyONE. Though public procurement has improved, the rather heavy-handed C1 £100k limit allows departments to circumvent it by chunking up work into reasonably sized pieces. But overall, the picture is improving. In particular, many government departments are now looking for operational support to bring projects and proposals to life.”
The other area is infrastructure. “We’re supporting extremely large and important projects, such as Thames Tideway and CrossRail. The National Infrastructure Plan has seen the gradual turning back on of capital spend, and it is much needed as a driver of growth.”
Stephen sees the recovery as L-shaped, neither slowing down nor particularly booming. “The worry is that amid debates on the future of the Union or our relations with the EU, there could be a dampening of ardour on public service reform and the pursuit of growth.” Stephen indicated that as a contingency a slight cooling of public sector activity, except in the area of education, a particular strength for Mott MacDonald, had been factored into forward plans.
Overall, however, Stephen is optimistic. “Our sector, both its consultants and operational participants in the infrastructure environment, has been heavily commoditised historically. With complex programmes emerging, we’re able to resist that and demonstrate the value specialist consultants provide as managers, integrators and generators of real value.
“Increasingly the value we bring comes from linking traditional business disciplines to emerging ones.” Mott MacDonald takes Digital very seriously. “Our use of an internal Digital platform has saved our business money. The application of similar approaches to projects we manage is the next step. Using real-time Digital information instead of traditional project planning will drive huge change, potentially reducing costs for clients and improving margins for us.
“Digital provides great potential for more joined up offerings to clients. But this presents challenges. Getting core consulting skills is difficult enough. The UK has a shortage of skilled engineers, planners, surveyors and other capabilities needed for the infrastructure value chain. And we need to combine people with these traditional skills in teams with people who have new and emerging Digital capabilities. They are also scarce. This will be a challenge for us. But it is also a challenge for policy makers. They will need to commit to the educational, training and investment strategies needed to ensure that the UK’s growth strategy is based on a combination of cutting edge technology, great networks and the capabilities needed to build and manage them.”
Stephen Cavanagh was interviewed for the MCA's report 'UK Consulting Industry Statistics 2015', and as part of the MCA Year of Growth.