Understanding the CEA (Construction Equipment Association) manifesto with the General Election approaching
(l-r) Beth Abbott and Viki Bell

The CEA (Construction Equipment Association) manifesto addresses important topics like decarbonisation, digital transformation, skills development, and regulatory consistency. These are key to our vision for a UK-wide Industrial Strategy. With the General Election approaching, it’s vital to unite and influence policies that promote sustainable growth and innovation in our sector. Beth Abbott, CEA Head of Marketing and Communications, speaks with Viki Bell, CEA Director of Operations, to explore the manifesto and its goals.

Q: Could you briefly overview the CEA’s 2024 manifesto and its primary objectives?
A: Our manifesto covers four key areas – all of which help underpin the call for a more comprehensive Industrial Strategy for the UK. The construction equipment industry (and the wider construction sector) faces several challenges, many of which are shared throughout the UK Plc. Our manifesto aims to call for closer working relationships and knowledge transfer across industries to tackle these. Our key asks are around the climate agenda, particularly decarbonisation, the digital transformation of our sector, increased investment in UK skills in and around STEM subjects, and a call for consistency in domestic policy, infrastructure projects, education, and harmonisation across geographical borders to ensure the UK remains competitive.

Q: The manifesto emphasises the importance of decarbonisation in the construction equipment sector. Could you elaborate on the key strategies and technologies the CEA advocates to achieve these goals?
A: The CEA remains technology-neutral. We do not advocate for one solution over another, as many technologies will be needed to meet the carbon agenda. We are also calling for recognition that developing these technologies is expensive, often requiring much higher Research and development (R&D) budgets, which should be supported. Technology-neutral outcomes are needed, not a mandated route pushing one tech area over another. The UK will also need a solid infrastructure to support these various technologies, from battery and charging to hydrogen production and storage.

Q: Your manifesto strongly focuses on digital transformation. What are the biggest challenges the UK construction equipment industry faces regarding digitalisation, and how does the CEA plan to address these?
A: Our industry is changing, and we need to grow and develop the inherent skills that many of our young people have and help them see how they can take this forward into the world of work. The digitalisation of our industry underpins all that we need to achieve, from telemetry on the equipment helping with environmental goals to the final endpoint with the operator in the cab, achieving greater accuracy and enhancing safety. However, constant changes to the UK education system mean we risk falling behind some of our global peers. The STEM agenda in schools has long been an issue, meaning the throughput into Further and Higher Education has suffered. Engineering and manufacturing are often perceived as a “dirty job,” in addition, the word construction is used, and we suffer from a poor brand image. This could not be further from the truth. Our members are developing high-tech solutions every day. If the general public had seen our members’ manufacturing plants and assembly lines inside, I believe they would have been genuinely shocked that they looked more like a laboratory than a factory.

Q: You mentioned the need for harmonisation of digital legislation. Can you explain why this is crucial and how it impacts the industry’s competitiveness?
A: This is key. In my short time with the CEA, I have seen several instances where legislation conflicts with that across Europe and the rest of the world. Our members are facing the need to develop UK-only solutions, increasing their costs and, in some cases, inadvertently making the UK market less attractive. With an 80% export rate, we need to ensure our equipment aligns with that of our global partners. Similarly, we need to protect ourselves and our data. Harmonisation on areas such as cybersecurity and data is vital to ensure we can continue to remain competitive.

Q: Skills and workforce development are critical areas highlighted in the manifesto. How is the CEA planning to tackle the skills gap and attract younger talent to the industry?
A: The skills gap in this area has been at the top of the agenda for many years. I have seen many organisations tackle this with varying degrees of success. The main idea behind our manifesto is to call for more collaborative working across the education arena, professional bodies, and trade associations. Collectively, we have a louder voice. My background in Professional Membership, FE and HE, and apprenticeships has been key here, and I am reaching out to many of my old colleagues to action this. This is an area I am very passionate about.

Q: What specific actions do you believe the government should take to support technical colleges and improve the STEM agenda in schools?
A: Ensure adequate funding to attract and retain the quantity and quality of teaching talent needed to deliver this new workforce.

Q: Consistency in regulatory environments is essential for manufacturing. What are the fundamental regulatory changes the CEA advocates to ensure stability and growth in the construction equipment sector?
A: It is not about key changes like consistency and continuity. The manifesto appeals for a clear and structured approach to adopt or harmonise legislation wherever possible. One area we are asking for is technology-neutral outcomes and not mandated legislation – we will need many differing technologies to hit the targets for decarbonisation. We feel the development of a UK Industrial Strategy will help with this, together with long-term planning in (R&D) and project management. We fully support the approach of a joined-up strategy and are working with many other trade associations and bodies to underpin this message.

Q: The manifesto touches on the importance of major infrastructure projects and international relations. How do these factors influence the UK construction equipment industry, and what are your recommendations to the government in these areas?
A: Here we are again asking for consistency and stability. Avoiding U-turns on major projects is critical to allowing and reinforcing the sector’s forecast growth. The government accounts for around 40% of UK construction projects and must continue with any pledges made in the various manifestos.

Q: Any final comments?
A: I want to thank the CEA Policy Group, who came together in the Spring of this year to help produce this manifesto. This is just the beginning, and the work will continue long beyond the 4th July. These are exciting times for the Country, the sector, and the CEA. I am delighted to be back in the industry to see these changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.