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It is never a question of sides

Jane O'Leary, ISG’s Strategic Advisor for Education, believes that if the public and private sectors truly work together, we can deliver outstanding education facilities that support and inspire.

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Poacher turned gamekeeper – I’ve heard that phrase a number of times since joining ISG from the Vale of Glamorgan Council, where I was responsible for driving the authority’s 21st Century Schools programme over the past 12 years. The vocabulary of course is somewhat antiquated, but more importantly, so is the concept behind those three words. I may have switched from the public to the private sector, but I see this as a completely seamless transition between complementary organisations that share the same core goals – to deliver outstanding education facilities that support and inspire our children, enhance our communities and all without negatively impacting the environment.

The thought that you might be on one side or another of the proverbial fence is becoming increasingly redundant, as we embrace a move away from competition towards collaboration. Just look at the Alliance form of contract that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is using to deliver its £1 billion New Prisons Programme. Here, four of our most innovative main contractors, including ISG of course!, are working together to prioritise a modern methods of construction (MMC) first approach, that drives innovation, maximises social value outcomes and delivers on the government’s net zero commitments.

In South Wales, we can rightly claim to been ahead of the curve – especially when it comes to our strategic policy on education planning, and there is great synergy between our approach in the Vale of Glamorgan and the latest MoJ framework. Building a school is not a transactional activity, it’s rooted in ownership and full engagement across the entire construction lifecyle and beyond. Whether it’s the design and functionality of the spaces, usability, operational efficiency, it’s environmental credentials and social value legacy – as a council we fully understood that the more you put in, the better the outcome for our pupils.

This engaged approach led to the Vale of Glamorgan to develop its own standard component design school. Llancarfan Primary School in Barry will open its doors in January and become the first net zero school in Wales. The council/contractor collaborative partnership has seen us iteratively improve the design and operational performance of our model school, but also optimise social and environmental benefits.

The innovation doesn’t stop there – it extends to the forward-looking relationship and commitment between contractor and client. We have pioneered a five-year carbon soft landings period, where ISG will monitor Llancarfan Primary School and use this data to ensure the building delivers on its net zero operational performance specification. Analysis will directly inform and improve the council’s model school, but also enable contractor and supply chain to optimise efficiencies and innovation.

Llancarfan School

There’s strong interest from local authorities across the UK on what’s being achieved within the Vale of Glamorgan for new build school assets, but we’re acutely aware that there is a significant challenge with our existing education estate. When our built asset decisions are informed by carbon reduction, we cannot simply demolish and start again without considering the impact of embodied carbon.

Upgrading and revitalising our current schools to be modern and operationally high-performing learning environments is key to our 2050 net zero commitments. There’s ground-breaking work being done with our exemplar project for Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) on deep and ethical retrofit. It’s exciting to think that the learnings from this scheme will not simply inform client and contractor – but will become an open-source knowledge base for everyone to benefit from. And that’s really the point – by working together in the built environment we get better buildings, that enhance our lives and communities, without harming the environment – you see - we’re all on the same side! 

Launching on Wednesday 21 June, ISG’s new Wide Angle ‘Rethinking the skills conundrum’ looks at how greater transparency and open sharing of relevant data holds the key to creating a high-skilled, high-wage economy that attracts greater level of inward investment.

Register for the report here - Launching 21 June 2023

A version of this article appeared in January's editions of Public Sector Building Journal, here


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