Why SMEs should take advantage of the I-Construct project

South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Housing Advisor Brian Horton explains why SMEs should take advantage of what I-Construct offers.

I-Construct was developed in partnership with the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) and steered by industry. SELEP is one of 38 partnerships nationally, established to provide the clear vision and strategic leadership to drive sustainable private sector-led growth and job creation in the South East. It brings together businesses, councils, universities and other industry players in a genuine ‘partnership for growth’ to decide the priorities for investment in activities like skills, business support, transport links, business facilities, housing and many more, in the SELEP geography, as part of an integrated approach to growth and infrastructure delivery. One of our objectives is to accelerate the delivery of housing as part of the growth agenda for the South East, through the SELEP Housing and Development Group. The SELEP Housing and Development Group is business-led, but has a wide membership including colleagues from the private sector, local government, housing associations, those involved in housing and development, including our new garden communities.

The Housing and Development Group has acted as an advisory panel for I-Construct since the business case was put together in 2017. The project’s proposition was also shaped by the Essex, East Sussex and Kent local developer’s groups.

The I-Construct Offering

I-Construct offers three modes of support – the I-Construct network, business development support and grant funding.

With I-Construct we’re creating a network, bringing people together to share learning. It’s all about leaving your own individual interests at the door to look at your collective interests, getting into a room with people who face the same issues as you do. Being part of this will give you an advantage of those who aren’t – giving you a ‘phone a friend’, a mentor and ideas about new ways of doing things.

We originally designed I-Construct to be a platform that helped SMEs move from being a constructor to a developer, or a smaller developer to a larger developer. Now, as well as being a way to encourage SMEs to do more, I see I-Construct as a life-boat helping SMEs navigate themselves through an uncertain market. Initially helping them sustain their existence but when things are more certain, making sure they have the confidence to grow and be part of the solution going forwards – that is why we brought in the mentoring part of the project.

One of the things we want to do through I-Construct is try and help SMEs position themselves to be used by housing associations and local authorities, either through procurement or joint venture. That’s another route to diversifying their activity. There’s also a broader advocacy piece. The I-Construct experts can help if there are things you need to be doing, but can’t quite get done, particularly working with new public-sector customers or local authorities. Navigating your way through the idiosyncrasies of the regulatory and planning environment, accessing better development finance terms or being able to work with organisations like Homes England.

The world is a challenging and complicated place at the moment and if a helping hand reaches out, don’t knock it away.

The future of construction

Construction is set to be a growth industry in coming years, with a huge amount of infrastructure and housing development planned. To achieve the government’s strategic growth ambitions, we need solutions of all different shapes and sizes. We need to involve Tier 1 contractors and SMEs, using both traditional and new methods of construction if we are going to move from building 200,000 homes nationally on a good year, to consistently in excess of 300,000 homes a year.

There are also a number of factors having an immediate effect on the housing market, including the continuing impact of Covid-19, and the Brexit transition from 1st January 2021. I believe there’s an even more compelling reason for I-Construct now.

Find out if you’re eligible for I-Construct support

About Brian Horton

Brian has over 30 years professional experience in the Housing and Development sector and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing. He is currently an independent housing consultant and the Strategic Housing Advisor for the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), working across Kent, Essex and East Sussex to promote the delivery of housing and share best practice.

Brian is also a board member at West Kent Housing, a co-opted member of Kent Housing Group Executive board, and works with commercial clients at Horton Strategic.

Brian is also an expert mentor for the I-Construct project. He will be contributing to the network programme and is available to work with SMEs as part of our free 9-hour 1:1 business mentoring and advice package. His areas of expertise include off-site construction, housing development, supply chain development.

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