‘There’s a lot of transferrable skills’: ex-Mace MP on his journey to parliament

As the election results rolled in on Friday morning (5 July), former Mace executive-turned-hopeful MP Mike Reader reflected on how familiar the last week had felt: the stress and pressure as deadline day approached, the long hours, coordinating a large team – all skills he developed winning major jobs like the £12.6bn Hudson Tunnel for his employer.

“At least you get the results straight away,” he said. “Maybe construction can learn from the way elections are decided.”

Soundtracked by the buzz of Portcullis House, Construction News chatted to the freshly elected MP about how the Mace top brass reacted to his political ambitions, winning major jobs while on the campaign trail and how construction has prepared him for parliament.

Balancing act

It was in part his construction background that sparked Reader’s political ambitions. While working at consultancy Pick Everard, the impact of austerity soon became clear to him. “At the time of the Conservative coalition government [2010-2015], I was working with the Government Procurement Service [now Crown Commercial Service] and [public sector framework provider] Scape. I could see first-hand what public sector cuts meant on the ground, in terms of fixing schools with leaky roofs, repurposing hospitals and road and infrastructure maintenance,” he said.

Reader joined the Labour Future Candidates Programme, which supports people from non-traditional backgrounds into party politics, and started to prepare his campaign. But his construction career grew as fast as his political career, and by 2021 he was leading global work winning at Mace – around the same time he began to devote himself to campaigning in his constituency of Northampton South.

He was, fortunately, supported by his colleagues. “The campaign has been going on for three years, and they’ve always been supportive,” he said. “That’s the great thing about Mace – I still delivered for the business and oversaw major wins and growth, but they have always been open to the fact that politics is a passion I wanted to follow.”

Reader had to work twice as hard to keep up his commitments to both work and politics. He had to fit canvassing and attending local meetings around his intense work schedule, which often saw him working six-day weeks to incorporate his colleagues’ shift patterns and communicate with stakeholders in different time zones.

“The one thing I had to give up was a social life. I became a really bad friend, because I couldn’t see anyone,” he said.

It all paid off, with Reader turning his constituency red for the first time since 2001. “I have been overwhelmed by the response. My notifications haven’t stopped pinging with lovely messages,” he says. “Davendra [Dabasia, Mace Consult chief executive] and Jason [Millett, deputy group chief executive] have always been supportive.”

Policy goals

Reader takes up his seat at an interesting time for construction. “We’ve got some difficult work ahead with the Building Safety Act, the Procurement Act and the transition to green technology within the infrastructure space,” he says. “I’m really fortunate that Mace was such a forerunner in terms of green technology, I’ve got a good grounding to lean on from my time in the business.”

Housebuilding, of course, is not only a preoccupation of housebuilders but people who live in areas like Reader’s Northampton constituency – and they don’t always see eye to eye. But Reader is confident he can bridge their differences.

“One thing I’ll be advocating for is making sure developers and councils invest more upfront to make sure infrastructure is in place to build housing, otherwise you inevitably get this nimby view,” he says. “They are not really nimbys at all – they’re just frustrated that they now can’t get to the GP surgeries they used to be able to get to.

“Our job – both politicians and industry – is to rebuild trust. People want housing: they’ve got kids who cannot afford to get on the property ladder or are struggling to rent.”

Reader says he has put trust at the heart of his campaign, a value whose importance he learnt while collaborative working champion at Constructing Excellence. It’s not the only thing his construction background has taught him.

“Working in bid winning, procurement and engineering teaches you how to deal with the public and deal with different stakeholders with different views,” he said. “There’s a lot of transferrable skills that come from our industry, and I bring a very different view.”

He has also picked up some of his values from his former employer. “Mace is very progressive in how it operates and supports its staff. I want to be that kind of person for my staff and constituents,” he says.

And, of course, experiencing the inner workings of the construction industry has influenced the policy he will promote in parliament. “There’s a whole swathe of things we can do beyond just planning reform that enables us to build houses that people want, like building trust with supply chains to invest earlier and embracing modern methods of construction.”

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