Elaine Knutt, Editor CM
The news isn’t good, is it? Everyone was expecting the new government to make swift public spending cuts, but the reality of slicing £6.2bn from the budget still cuts perilously close to the bone. These days, the news is communicated in a relentless flow of email news alerts, each gloomier than the last. And we all know that what we’ve had so far is just a foretaste of what will be announced in the Budget, and then the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Much of the bad news relates to the fate of Building Schools for the Future. As Mike Cuthbert of Drivers Jonas Deloitte says (page 14), BSF and Partnerships for Schools have been the industry’s best friends since the credit crunch.
But has the industry been as good a friend to PfS? New CIOB president James Wates believes that integrated supply chains could shrink build costs on design and build projects (ie BSF) by at least 10-15%. He’s not talking about a technological breakthrough, but the kind of joined-up thinking that the industry has been preaching – if not always practising – for over a decade. If he’s right, then Tim Byles and PfS have been overcharged.
And then there’s another way in which BSF has swallowed up more public funds than necessary. A defining feature of BSF has been the extraordinary lengths bidders must go to to liaise with individual school communities to design facilities tailored to their individual needs. It loaded complexity, and therefore cost, onto the bid process. But more fundamentally, why were we doing it at all?
Readers might remember the Department for Education and Skills commissioning leading architects in 2003 to design 10 “exemplar” schools. Local authorities could use the Stage C designs for free, selecting contractors on their proposals to build a version adapted to the school’s site and aspirations.
Instead, we got a new quango and a new procurement route. Using the exemplars mightn’t have been easy. But if government had incentivised councils to use them, the industry would have wised up quickly enough. Or you might argue that identikit schools popping up all over the place is a poor use of public funds. You might, until you consider the calibre of the architects, and how we all enjoy standardised Victorian schools.
So the design thinking was lost, as well as the opportunity for the industry to show what cost efficiencies it could achieve through building to standardised, excellent design. (In the course of seven years, these would surely amount to more than Wates’ 10-15%). It’s too late to wind back the clock. But after the government shrinks BSF, it might want to learn lessons from a less than exemplary story.
The institute’s first overseas AGM, plus an international construction conference, takes place in Shanghai at the end of the month. In our interview (page 18), James Wates predicts “an opportunity to work the CIOB brand at the Shanghai Expo”. For those of us who can’t make the trip to see whether he’s right, there will be daily updates of events on the CIOB website.
I read the article on construction’s public image in the May edition of CM with interest as I am currently preparing a report on professionalism within the industry as part of my construction degree.
I am intrigued as to why, within an article in a magazine produced by the CIOB, there are five or six pages dedicated to the question of how the public can gain confidence in the building industry and in particular how they can select a competent builder and yet, in all those pages there is no mention of using a builder who has chartered membership status.
I have only been part of the building industry for seven years, prior to which I was a certified accountant. If someone approached the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and asked their opinion on how Mr & Mrs Average could be sure of finding a competent accountant, I am confident that the answer would be to use a certified accountant or, if approaching the Institute of Chartered Accountants, a chartered accountant.
Within the article mentioned, there are references to all manner of schemes such as TradeMark, Quality Mark, Assured Trader Network and even a quote from Victoria Thornton stating that someone wanting information on a loft conversion would have the internet as their first port of call. Would not the best idea for anyone considering a loft extension be to speak to a chartered builder who would be able to guide them through the possible pitfalls associated with loft conversion works?
How can Mr & Mrs Average be expected to fully consider all the structural and Building Regulations requirements of a loft conversion from the internet? It would be the equivalent of someone wanting to have their company accounts prepared being told to have a look on the internet at various accounting sites and then consider themselves in a position to be fully informed on how to prepare their accounts. Most people do not have the time to be perusing the internet trying to become experts in a field that takes years to master.
All the general public mostly wants is a way of finding a builder in whom they can place their trust to do a good job for a reasonable price. It would surely not be out of place in CM magazine for the CIOB to promote their members as being those who can accommodate these requirements?
Earlier this year you posed the question: “Is it time you took a punt on water freight?” (CMFebruary) The answer from the Thames and the Port of London Authority is an emphatic “yes”.
The reality is that, for many companies coming to water freight anew, the experience can be daunting. The reassuring familiarities of trucks, drivers and highways are so much more tempting than what can be a step into the unknown.
To seize the potential of water freight you need a Sherpa, a guide to what to do and how to do it. On the River Thames that’s the role we fulfil at the Port of London Authority. When project promoters come to us we work with them to develop their understanding of river operations, where the best wharf is for them and which boat operator they should partner with.
This is what we have done with Network Rail at Blackfriars Bridge and what we’re doing with Crossrail, where we are helping move 5m tonnes of tunnelling spoil out of the capital by water and further volumes of construction materials back in.
On the Olympics, we share the frustration that the potential wasn’t realised. But, there is still time for water freight to play a role in the latter stages of outfitting the venue.
Water freight vision is turning into reality on the Thames and we’re working to help that happen.
I wish to explain my decision last month to resign my Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts during the President’s Annual Lecture on 5 May. I made the decision at the event in front of HRH Prince Philip, president of the RSA, in protest at his biased handling of guest speaker Bjørn Lomborg.
Lomborg is an accomplished speaker from Denmark and author of the book The Sceptical Environmentalist. He gives talks at many global events, which, while coherent and make several good points, are laced with dangerous distortions.
Lomborg prides himself on not being a “full-on” climate sceptic. Indeed, compared to some high-profile climate science deniers his distortions are relatively slight, but as a result they are far more insidious and corrosive.
He makes utterly believable statistical assertions that people cry out to hear. With a quiet, modest, humorous and attractive manner, he sows and cultivates new false doubt. It is this doubt that has prevented us from effectively tackling climate change for a decade or more, and at a crucial time in history, as the oil era ends and as our climate kicks back hard after a century of planetary abuse.
I don’t object to the RSA inviting Lomborg to speak at the RSA. Indeed, I love the fact that the RSA courts controversy and invites vigorous debate. It was Prince Phillip’s obvious bias in support of Lomborg that I objected to. During Lomborg’s Q&A at the lecture he was applauded, welcomed, supported, congratulated and even defended by HRH, who intervened and ruled some challenges from the floor to be “piddling”.
Close friends and total strangers have offered their praise and their condemnation and I remain fully open to the possibility that I may have got it wrong.
It is often said that we can have more influence “from within”, but when that means being a Fellow at a revered institution that through its patrons supports someone who sells false doubt and false hope about the seriousness of our species’ situation, I say no.
All around us is a raging blow-out fossil fuel spending-spree bonfire and this is not something that I can tolerate, or seemingly endorse as Fellow at the RSA.
I stepped down and feel lonely, but liberated as a result.
I see the country as a business with a profit and loss account. You have to balance the books, so we need to reduce our overheads. The number of public sector employees is at an all-time high and the country can no longer support it. There’s a lot of money to be saved throughout the civil service. The government has started to do this, but governments rely on the civil service to implement their policies, so it’s very hard for them to properly tackle it. We also have to create an environment in which people can generate income, to increase the wealth of the country.
Bob Rendell, group chief executive, Leadbitter Construction
Construction is one of the biggest employers in the country, and investing in it affects the country’s GDP quickly and with impact. If schools projects are cut, the contractors won’t have the work, and they won’t employ the subcontractors or buy materials from suppliers and we’ll have another economic downturn.
Tim Cheshire MCIOB, facilities and estates manager, Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue
I would look at things the government can do to drive up income. Cuts alone will not work. We need to generate growth and construction will be a big part of that. We worked out that local authorities lost £6bn in section 106 receipts in the first year of the economic downturn. Rather than cutting £6bn off everyone’s budget, I’d look to stimulate the economy, to create ways to make profitable businesses that contribute more tax to the Treasury.
Graham Kean, director of public sector, EC Harris
It’s better to make cuts gradually. If you cut public sector jobs, those people will become unemployed. At least while they’re working, they’re paying tax and national insurance. You can save money with better housekeeping and cancelling things like new computer systems. You could also raise money by consolidating buildings and services, and selling old assets and land. I would look at tax avoidance, all those people working for cash. I would raise [employers’] national insurance. When you have firms like M&S complaining it doesn’t add up with the profits they’ve just announced.
Barbara Entwistle ICIOB, area manager, Velux
The public sector estate is worth £375bn, and the government’s Operational Efficiency Programme established that better and more efficient use of assets could save £20bn over 10 years, and about £5bn a year just on running costs. We should look at transforming the office environment through rationalising the public sector estate and bringing in new and flexible ways of working. There are a lot of outsourced services, so co-locating partners would give much better efficiencies. Reducing the amount of energy, travel and emissions civil servants produce in their jobs would improve sustainability and also save money.
Phil Brown, director, Mace
I think we need to look at social security payments and the retirement age. We should return to the same principles as when the system was set up, based on the ratio between
the time people spend working and the time they spend retired. We should also simplify the tax system and reduce the level of tax breaks and ways people can offset tax, while reducing the standard rate, removing the incentive for people to try to cut their tax bills.
Mark Beard FCIOB, managing director, Beard Construction
We need more effective, efficient procurement routes, but that doesn’t mean going back to the bad old days of the nineties with single-stage competitive tendering. We need to demonstrate more integrated working and collaboration to cut waste. The reality is that there’s less money available and we’re going to have to make it go further.
Anthony Dillon, managing director, Willmott Dixon’s Manchester office
I run an architectural design company. The majority of my work is on loft extensions and additions to homes. I get calls from people who have had drawings done that are incomplete and on one occasion I had a call from a builder who received a drawing that had the new loft floor supported by a spine wall that didn’t align vertically through the floors. This type of thing happens all too often. Local authority planning and Building Control departments should be able to recommend designers and builders as they have the professional and technical knowledge and experience.
Matthew Ripley ACIOB
Mr and Mrs Average cannot help think that the industry is a joke, when the majority of firms are made up of people that have no qualifications or enthusiasm whatsoever. The bosses want to play golf and look good in the clubhouse, when they should be building structures to be proud of.
Although this may seem to be another type of red tape, I personally feel that all builders servicing the public should have a license to do works over a certain value. More than just a national endorsement scheme is needed, it should have some legislation behind it. Possibly even forcing them to provide financial risk as collateral. This would get rid of most of the cowboys, and these silly websites that manipulate the public into thinking that their members are “rated”, “qualified” and so on. Or would this just cause a huge vacuum effect, leaving the public with less choice?
Row worsens as QSs threaten to quit RICS
I am not a member of the RICS, but have always wanted to be one. However, I see the RICS pandering to raising numbers of members rather than establishing quality by the difficulty to achieve membership. I have heard members complaining how easy it is to become a member by various routes other than taking the formal examination approach where all the skills of surveying are tested.
Sheffield Hallam University is offering an MSc in Low and Zero Carbon, it is delivered as single CPD days followed up by additional support and assessment.
For more information email A.Lewis@shu.ac.uk
I support this coalition government in not being afraid to act in the national interest. Let long termism ride higher than short termism for a while, and instead of false levels construction activity that lead to an unimaginable problem of the UK having a shortfall in funds that has spiralled out of control, we will have a construction industry which has adapted to survive.
Let’s hope his promise becomes reality, the industry has been saying this for years.
Happy days ahead. I cannot wait to see the list when it is published.
Billions of pounds of BSF and health projects halted – from our weekly e-newsletter, the issue closest to the industry’s heart at the moment
Tube Lines deal collapses amid cost accusations – another newsletter story, this time on the 30-year PPP deal that only lasted for seven years
What are you like? – CM looks at the construction industry through the eyes of Mr & Mrs Average – and it’s not always pretty
RICS showdown with QS firms – perhaps a touch of Schadenfreude? Another newsletter story – sign up at our website if you aren’t receiving it
Baby on board – our new Career Consultants panel advises a new father
James Wates says design and build costs could be cut by 10-15% – do you agree?
Go to the homepage and cast your vote now.
Is the general election result good news for the construction industry?