5 Big Trends in Building & Construction: A Strategic Procurement Perspective – Part 1


Overview of the current state of Australia’s building and construction sector

The Australian building and construction sector is at a critical juncture. As it navigates a landscape marked by a surge in insolvencies, legislative shake-ups, and a heightened focus on sustainable practices. This two-part article provides a detailed analysis of the current state of the industry. It offers strategic procurement professionals key trends and actionable insights.

In Part 1, we focus on two main topics: the immediate effects of the recent increase in construction company failures, and the important legislative reforms that are transforming contract management. We will also explore the intensifying scrutiny on sustainable practices within the procurement process. Here we will be outlining the challenges and opportunities this presents.

The industry is still reeling from the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rising material and labour costs, coupled with aggressive interest rate hikes, have painted a complex picture for the sector’s future.

As the industry begins its recovery journey, strategic procurement professionals face new challenges. They must navigate an environment where assessing risks, managing costs, and complying with regulations are vital. This changing scenario calls for a thorough review of procurement practices. It’s essential to ensure these practices are resilient, flexible, and in tune with the current market demands.

Several key trends are poised to shape strategic procurement in FY24 and beyond.

The rise in construction company failures is pushing procurement managers to reevaluate their choice of vendors and contract terms. This is done to better mitigate risks. Legislative reforms are introducing new complexities, with stringent penalties for unfair contract terms. The crackdown on greenwashing drives the supply chain’s need for verifiable sustainability credentials.

Moreover, volatile interest rates and fluctuating material costs are forcing a reconfiguration of project financing and budgeting strategies. Additionally, the differing state-specific policies on contractor security and project retention necessitate a more nuanced approach to compliance.

Importance of staying informed for strategic procurement professionals

In this climate, the value of being well-informed cannot be overstated for strategic procurement professionals. Staying abreast of regulatory changes, market shifts, and industry best practices is not merely beneficial but imperative for effective management and strategic planning. Procurement professionals who thoroughly understand the sector’s dynamics can create strategies. These strategies help them to take advantage of opportunities and skillfully handle challenges. Informed professionals can champion sustainable procurement, optimise cost efficiencies, and enhance the robustness of supply chains against potential disruptions. Strategic procurement professionals are key to an organization’s resilience and agility. They need a forward-looking approach and strategies based on evidence. This will help guide their projects and companies towards lasting success in an ever-changing industry landscape.

Trend 1: Rising Insolvencies in Building & Construction

Statistical overview of insolvencies within the construction sector

The construction sector, pivotal to Australia’s economic growth and infrastructure development, is facing a worrying upswing in insolvencies. ASIC reveals a significant spike in construction company liquidations, surpassing 2015 levels. This surge now accounts for 31% of all industry business failures, highlighting profound sector challenges.

After these liquidations, the impact is profound. It disrupts projects and intensifies pressure on the housing supply chain and employment. In the fiscal year 2022-2023, ASIC data reveals that over 2000 construction companies have failed, averaging more than two per day. This highlights the sector’s vulnerability compared to others. Adding to the challenge, material and labor costs are rising sharply, while credit markets tighten due to interest rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The security typically required from contractors, intended for release upon project completion, has become a recurring source of disputes. Some regions, like Western Australia, have enacted legislation such as the Building and Construction Industry (Security of Payment) Act 2022 to simplify the recovery process.

In Western Australia, the retention money trust scheme gradually expands based on contract value, protecting project funds proactively. In contrast, states like Victoria don’t recognize claims for retention money reduction in relation to construction work, highlighting diverse legislative environments.

Analysts foresee a significant decline in residential construction activities in this landscape. Projections indicate a potential 20% shortfall compared to government targets for new homes. The existing $76 billion worth of residential work faces risks due to consistently high construction and financing costs. This situation may prompt a reevaluation of strategic procurement and investment decisions within the industry.

As these challenges loom, procurement professionals are called upon to navigate an increasingly complex environment. This emphasizes the need for robust financial risk assessment, agile contract management practices, and a strategic response to shifting market dynamics. 

Strategies for due diligence and financial risk assessment

Strategic procurement professionals must sharpen their due diligence processes in response to this uptick in insolvencies. In response to these challenges, industry practices have evolved. Companies are now conducting more rigorous financial health checks of potential contractors and suppliers. These assessments involve a thorough examination of credit history and a search for evidence of financial resilience. Moreover, risk assessments have become more granular. They now consider the possibility of a subcontractor’s failure and the subsequent impacts on project timelines and completion guarantees. These measures are critical for new partnerships and ongoing contracts, with regular reviews to identify early warning signs of distress.

Adjusting procurement and contract management practices

Adjusting procurement practices to the new reality means incorporating flexible terms that can accommodate the financial unpredictability of partners. Contract managers now have the responsibility of structuring agreements with clear terms on performance security, retention, and lien clauses. Additionally, these agreements incorporate robust termination and dispute resolution processes.

There’s an increasing focus on contingency planning, ensuring that projects remain on track despite potential contractor disruptions. This strategic foresight involves several key measures. Firstly, it includes diversifying the supplier base to avoid excessive reliance on any single contractor. Additionally, it incorporates milestone-based payments, aligning cash flows with project progress to mitigate financial risks. As the sector evolves, it’s imperative that procurement policies also evolve to shield projects from the ripple effects of insolvencies within the construction supply chain.

Trend 2: Legislative Reforms and Compliance in Building & Construction

Summary of nationwide changes and their impact on contract management

Australia’s construction sector is undergoing transformative changes in contract management. The Treasury Laws Amendment (More Competition, Better Prices) Act 2022 has introduced stringent regulations against unfair contract terms. This legislative shift transcends state boundaries, demanding a unified response from nationwide businesses.

Contracts are now scrutinised under a new lens, with penalties awaiting those who enforce or depend on unfair terms. The extended protective scope for small businesses necessitates a closer examination of contracts that exceed previous thresholds. This underscores the importance of fairness and balance in contractual dealings. For procurement managers, this entails a reevaluation of existing contracts. They should also incorporate new compliance measures into procurement processes to ensure that all future agreements adhere to these legislative reforms.

The shift from “major” to “serious” defects in NSW

In New South Wales, the legislative reform redefining “major defects” to “serious defects” constitutes a critical update for procurement professionals. This transition broadens the accountability for construction quality and extends the horizon for potential defect claims.

Now, the criteria for defects encompass any non-compliance with the National Construction Code or approved plans. This places the responsibility squarely on contract managers to guarantee that every aspect of their projects adheres to the rigorous standards set by this updated definition. This heightened scrutiny necessitates meticulous oversight and proactive measures to avoid potential issues.

It underlines the need for meticulous oversight at every project stage, from design to material selection and construction practices. For strategic procurement, it translates into rigorous quality control and an enduring commitment to contractual diligence to manage the extended liability period effectively.

Adapting to civil penalties for unfair contract terms

Adaptation to civil penalties for unfair contract terms under the new amendments requires procurement managers to take a proactive stance. This includes conducting a comprehensive review of standard form contracts and seeking to redress any elements that might lead to significant imbalance, are unnecessary for protection, or could cause detriment if enforced.

Strategic procurement must now navigate these waters cautiously, embedding fairness into the core of contract formulation. This entails removing or revising clauses construed as one-sided, such as limiting liability for breaches or providing unilateral termination rights. The introduction of penalties for unfair terms injects rigidity into contract negotiations, mandating a more equitable approach and a heightened sensitivity to the implications of each clause. For businesses, these changes are not just about legal compliance but about fostering trust and transparency in commercial relationships, essential qualities in a market driven by fair dealing and consumer rights.

Trend 3: Sustainable Practices Under the Microscope

The crackdown on greenwashing and implications for procurement

The Australian building and construction sector is increasingly placing a premium on sustainability, but with this shift comes the necessity for stringent authenticity. The crackdown on greenwashing—a deceptive practice where companies inflate or fabricate their environmental credentials—has significant implications for procurement.

Strategic procurement professionals must now be vigilant in assessing the green claims of their suppliers and partners, understanding that regulatory bodies are sharpening their focus on these claims. With legislation like the UK’s “anti-greenwashing” rule and the EU’s Green Claims Directive setting precedents, Australian companies must prepare for a similar trajectory of regulation.

Procurement departments are tasked with the critical job of due diligence to validate the environmental assertions of their supply chains. This includes verifying certifications, assessing the lifecycle impact of materials and practices, and ensuring all environmental claims are substantiated by reliable evidence.

Ensuring transparency and evidence in sustainability claims

Transparency in sustainability claims has become a cornerstone for procurement operations. It is no longer sufficient for businesses to assert their commitment to environmental practices merely; they must now provide evidence that is verifiable and compliant with emerging standards.

Procurement professionals must ensure that their practices, from Sourcing through to final delivery, align with the rigorous demands of sustainability. This means contracts should reflect clear environmental objectives, and suppliers should be selected based on their proven ability to meet these goals. The process of substantiating claims should be embedded into procurement policies, with a system for regular review and audit.

In the wake of new regulations, procurement teams have a pivotal role in driving change, steering companies towards a future where sustainability is not just claimed but demonstrated and implemented.

Aligning procurement strategies with environmental regulations

The evolving environmental regulations are a call to action for procurement strategies to align with the higher standards of sustainability and compliance. This encompasses everything from selecting materials that meet eco-friendly standards to engaging in contracts prioritising energy efficiency and waste reduction. With the introduction of new laws and consumer demands for greener practices, procurement must become a strategic partner in achieving corporate sustainability objectives, influencing decisions and policies that will have long-lasting environmental impacts.

The process involves a thorough understanding of both domestic and international environmental laws; proactive communication with stakeholders and an investment in training and development to build a sustainability-focused culture within procurement teams.

In Part 2, we discuss the economic implications of interest rate fluctuations, material cost volatilities, enhanced consumer protection measures, and the use of analytics to drive compliance and efficiency.