A new CEA chief with a convincing manifesto

Loading, Hauling & Excavation / June 24, 2024
By Guy Woodford
A busy CEA-hosted Plantworx exhibition showground. Pic: CEA

Viki Bell is the first director of operations at the CEA (Construction Equipment Association). She took up her newly-created role in March this year following the departure of chief executive Suneeta Johal after her nearly three years of service.


Bell spoke to Aggregates Business editor Guy Woodford about the CEA's recently released 2024 Manifesto, an ambitious document outlining a comprehensive plan to advance the UK construction equipment industry, and her approach to leading the association, a highly respected and important industry champion


The CEA's 2024 Manifesto focuses on decarbonisation, digital transformation, skills development, and regulatory consistency, all critical to achieving growth in the UK construction equipment industry aligned with global standards. 


As Bell explains, a CEA Policy Group, including senior OEM (original equipment manufacturers) executives, major industry technical figures, and the head of a top construction equipment industry business intelligence consultancy, was formed in spring 2024 to prepare the Manifesto. She describes it as a "transparent approach to tackle the challenges facing the UK construction equipment sector and the wider construction, engineering, manufacturing, and education sectors."

Viki Bell
Viki Bell, CEA director of operations. Pic: CEA


Key highlights from the Manifesto include:


Decarbonisation: Advocating for a technology-neutral approach, the CEA supports the development of electric, hydrogen, and low-emission diesel technologies. Key asks include national planning for alternative fuel infrastructure and alignment of UK legislation with EU standards for hydrogen combustion engines.


Digitalisation: Emphasising the need for the UK to maintain its competitive edge, the CEA calls for harmonised digital legislation and a coordinated effort to bridge the digital skills gap within the industry.


Skills development: Addressing the need for a skilled workforce, the Manifesto proposes collaboration with professional bodies, educational organisations and support for technical colleges to ensure a steady pipeline of talent in STEM fields.


Regulatory Consistency: The CEA urges the government to maintain stability in infrastructure planning and regulatory alignment with the EU to avoid inadvertently making the UK an unattractive market for international manufacturers.


Bell emphasises that the Manifesto underlines the CEA's commitment to being the industry voice and advocating for policies that support sustainable growth and innovation. She stresses that there is no time to waste in delivering on its recommendations. 


"The engineering and manufacturing skills agenda doesn't appear to have moved on for the last decade. We need to fill the skills gap and get younger people into what is an exciting industry. I recently visited a CEA member company and viewed a remotely operated [machine] cab. I could be working a machine on a site in, say, Delhi from my spare room. That part of the construction equipment industry has seen a big change. Equipment manufacturing plants are now more like laboratories."


"Looking at industry decarbonisation, I believe that we will hit the targets one way or another. The risk to me is in how we hit them. One of the things we're talking about to governing administrations is wanting this to be technology-neutral. If you mandate any one solution, you fix a problem but create another. A long time ago, I worked in the waste industry, and the big buzzword then was 'zero waste'. I said, 'Unless we give everyone who works in this area a goat and a worm farm with their recycling bins, it's impossible!'. We must hit the targets as a society, but how you hit them is vitally important."

CEA logo
The CEA's 2024 Manifesto focuses on decarbonisation, digital transformation, skills development, and regulatory consistency, Pic: CEA


Bell says that while she "really enjoyed" putting the CEA 2024 Manifesto together, including her collaborative work with the CEA Policy Group, researching the section on the equipment industry's need for regulatory consistency was a "real eye-opener."


"What amazed me was that some of the [UK post-Brexit] legislation pushed through could be viewed as reinventing the wheel. There were U-turns that represented big costs for the [construction equipment] industry. We risk inadvertently making the UK uncompetitive. We export 80% of the construction equipment we manufacture in the UK, and we are in danger of big organisations turning round and saying, 'Well, we will look to other markets'."


Bell says she is also "slightly nervous" on the regulatory consistency front that a change in the UK government will lead to certain policies being "thrown out, as they aren't our policies or systems". "I think making something that's there work better for everybody would be better," she stresses. "For example, the Apprenticeship Levy has, from what I've seen, resulted in confusion for many – helping to clarify and simplify rather than change again might be a good way forward."


The Apprenticeship Levy was initiated by the UK government in April 2017 for all employers paying a wage bill of more than £3 million per year. Employers that meet this criterion must pay 0.5% of their monthly payroll as a levy tax. This levy can then be used to invest in apprenticeship training for the workforce, or funds can be transferred (up to 50%) to other companies so they can invest in apprenticeship training for their employees. If funds are not used within two years, they are returned to the treasury.

The CEA UK Construction Equipment Sector Report for 2023 states that the sector's GVA increased from £2.3bn in 2018 to £2.5 bn in 2022. Pictured is a CDE plant and supporting wheeled loaders and a truck at Breedon Cave Quarry in East Yorkshire. Pic: CDE


The CEA UK Construction Equipment Sector Report for 2023 states that the sector's Gross Value Added (GVA) increased from £2.3 billion in 2018 to £2.5 billion in 2022. The UK construction equipment sector ranks fifth globally and first in Europe by unit sales.


Expanding on the digitalisation priority within the CEA 2024 Manifesto, Bell says: "I was talking to our Head of Marketing [Beth Abbott] as we were shown a fully remote operating cab about how any digital native, that's anyone under the age of 20, could get hold of the cab joystick and work it. We discussed how this kind of remote working could attract gamers and the need to get the message out there that our industry is cool. As well as the need to attract new manufacturing apprentices and young people on the mechanical engineering side of the industry, there is a machine operators' skills gap, with an ageing workforce.


"I've seen so many initiatives, some good, some bad, over the years. They all do a little bit, talking to the same people and chipping away at the same end goals. Our Manifesto stresses the importance of working collectively, as we're all saying the same thing and need to go to Government and the Civil Service together. If we do that, we have more chance of being heard. I think the call for a new UK Industrial Strategy is a strong one to give a framework for everything that needs to happen."


Bell says the CEA has over 130 corporate company members, an impressive number befitting a trade association representing the UK construction equipment industry since 1942. Crucially, the British government recognises the CEA as the industry's voice. The Association supports its members in achieving industry excellence through market and technical information and insights, networking, trade shows, exhibitions, and events, and lobbying work with the UK and European Governments. The CEA is represented in Brussels as an active Committee for European Construction Equipment (CECE) member. Its influence is felt globally through its technical, regulatory and international trade work.

CESAR scheme
CEA director of operations Viki Bell is keen for the CEA to help further develop the highly successful CESAR Scheme. Pic: CEA


The CEA Policy Group, whose collective efforts produced the 2024 Manifesto, includes the following members: Viki Bell, CEA Director of Operations; Dale Camsell, CEA Technical Lead; Joanna Oliver, CEA International Business; Charles Stevenson from the CEA Board (JCB); Denise Peet from Caterpillar; David Waine from ConMech Engineers; Rob White from Kubota; Chris Sleight from Off-Highway Research; and Mark Bowen from ZF Services.


Bell says she is keen for the CEA to do much more collaborative work with its Policy Group to develop Manifesto priorities. "Dale runs a brilliant industry forum that brings together multiple trade associations. Joanna has been working for the CEA for years. My view of the CEA is that we did much more in the past, but things have changed slightly in the last few years. Hopefully, our members have seen an uptick in our work since Beth and I came in earlier this year. That is certainly reflected in the feedback we've been getting. We have consciously tried to get out, meet, and speak to as many members as possible and ask them about their challenges and issues."


Before joining the CEA, Bell was Head of SME [Small and Medium Enterprise] Proposition Support at the Personal Group, a leading UK provider of employee services. Another previous management role was Propositions Marketing Manager at BSI, a major global business performance improvement consultancy.


"Since arriving at the CEA, I've been reaching out to many of my old colleagues and bosses to let them know I'm back in this industry and keen to rebuild alliances. A speaker from Enginuity, formerly Sector Skills, is coming to the next members' forum to lay out the skills agenda. I've got someone else coming in to talk about export finance.

engcon at Plantworx
An engcon demonstration at a previous edition of Plantworx. Pic: engcon & CEA


"The Manifesto will form the Strategic Plan for the CEA, with everything we do going forward related to its four key areas. They relate to the challenges and opportunities the construction equipment industry is looking at. Writing it [the Manifesto] was the easy bit. It's about what the CEA does now, including bringing our members with us via our membership forums and building our relationship with the incoming administration following the General Election.


"The CEA has a diverse membership base. Going forward, we've talked about getting our SMEs in front of OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] and running OEM-specific events, as they have different challenges. We are running through a lot of different ideas."


Bell is also keen for the CEA to help further develop the highly successful CESAR Scheme. Launched in 2008, it remains the premier initiative to combat UK construction and agricultural equipment theft. Over 625,000 machines are now registered and protected by CESAR. It combines state-of-the-art Datatag ID technology, overt and covert deterrents, a low one-off cost to protect your machine for life, and a secure and accredited dedicated 24/7 UK Secure Contact Centre to combat theft and aid recovery. The triangular CESAR registration plate has become the UK industry standard identification mark, supported by local authorities, leading contractors, the farming community, hire companies, the police, insurers, and finance companies.


The CEA and the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA) fully support CESAR, along with other stakeholders, including leading equipment manufacturers, importers and dealers, the Home Office, the police, plant hire companies, trade associations, and major insurers.

Viki Bell says Plantworx is "crucial" for the UK construction equipment sector and the CEA. Pic: CEA 


Hosted by the CEA, PlantWorx 2025 is set to expand its impact within the UK construction industry, continuing the biennial event's strong tradition of live demonstrations and innovative displays. Next year's edition (23-25 September 2025) will feature emerging and disruptive technologies alongside construction equipment, innovation, technology products, and services.


"Plantworx is crucial for the UK construction equipment sector and the CEA as it is a significant platform for showcasing the latest advancements in construction machinery, technology, and services," says Bell. "It promotes innovation, collaboration, and networking among industry professionals.


"The CEA aims to build upon previous successes by continuing the tradition of live demonstrations, expanding the event's impact and reach, and reinforcing Plantworx as the number-one destination in 2025 for construction equipment innovation and networking."


Plantworx is switching from the East of England Showground near Peterborough to the Newark Showground in Newark, Nottinghamshire, in England's East Midlands.

CEA 2024 Manifesto
The front cover of the CEA's 2024 Manifesto. Pic: CEA


"The [UK construction equipment] industry is responding positively to Newark Showground as the new venue due to its excellent infrastructure, accessibility, and well-suited outdoor spaces, which will ensure smooth operations regardless of weather conditions," explains Bell. "2025 will be my first ever Plantworx, so I am hoping for a repeat of what I was told was a scorching show in 2023. It's also in an easily accessible location - another positive for the 2025 event."


Will Plantworx 2025 attendees see any new CEA projects and initiatives showcased? "We've seen many changes at the CEA in 2024. The website upgrade is well underway. It is our shop window and vital for our profile going forward. The ultimate plan is to serve up more personalised content. We have a new membership brochure and have completely automated the membership sign-up process. The regular member newsletter has returned, and Dale, our technical consultant, now has a monthly blog. It's an exciting time," enthuses Bell. "We are also launching a brand-new member benefit at our Members' Forum in July. By the time we reach PlantWorx next year, I expect even more exciting developments. Stay tuned!"

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