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Industry groups mourn their lost seats at government's table

17 Jul 15 Industry organisations that failed to get a seat on the streamlined Construction Leadership Council have been swift to condemn the reforms.

There were 30 seats at the CLC table but now there are just 12
There were 30 seats at the CLC table but now there are just 12

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) yesterday announced the restructuring of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), reducing membership from 30 down to 12, and the abolition of the role of government’s chief construction adviser.   

Industry members are primarily the bosses of the UK divisions of big international contractors – Skanska, Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke. (See our previous report here.)

However, those outside of the major contractors mourn the demise of the chief construction adviser and think that the leadership council should be more broadly based.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC), which represents 46 professional organisations across the built environment, was particularly upset by the jetissoning of professional services interest groups and the move to reliance on corporate business leaders.

CIC chairman Tony Burton, who was previously on the CLC but now told his services are no longer required, said:  “It is a pity that this announcement comes without meaningful consultation with industry about the proposals.”

He added: “The government has often asked for industry to speak with a single voice but it appears itself now to be working against that objective.   The CLC – as now constituted – is effectively just one more body, not a unification of the various sector organisations, which means that the Strategic Forum for Construction now takes on an even greater significance as the industry’s united voice.”

CIC chief executive Graham Watts reckoned the government was underestimating the value of the chief construction adviser role. He said: “The industry once had a dedicated minister of state; but, over time, ministerial interaction with construction has greatly diminished.  Some eight years ago, the appointment of a chief construction officer was recommended by the trade and industry select committee and, in due course, that recommendation was accepted by government.  I don’t see any circumstances that have changed to negate the need for the role.”

He argued that industry could take responsibility for funding the role – an idea supported by Sean Tompkins, chief executive of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. “The united industry worked hard to establish a single point of contact through the chief construction adviser and has ensured that two good people have filled the post effectively over the past six years," Mr Tompkins said. "The role is still required and, if this is an issue of cost, the leading members of CIC would be willing to make the necessary contribution to keep this important post which combines both expert adviser to ministers and the highest representative of industry."  

CIC deputy chairman John Nolan, a former president of the Institution of Structural Engineers, was concerned by the lack of design representation on the new council: “If the new council is to be successful it needs the support of the whole of our industry.  The emphasis on the automotive industry’s council as a model for the CLC is misplaced in my view.   Automotive manufacturers include the design, engineering and other professional processes, which are separate businesses in the construction sector and appear to be thinly represented in this new council”.

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The Association for Consultancy & Engineering also voiced disappointment. Chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin said: “It represents a backward step at a time when collaboration between industry and government is essential as we seek to deliver on a massive programme of investment. The positon of chief construction adviser provides a key single point of contact between our sector, ministers, and officials and is a vital line of communication that has highlighted blockages, acted as a flow point for information, and been a source of expertise.”

He said: “With this reform and the reduction in the numbers and types of representatives the government risks losing the pan-industry outlook the CLC provides. Each client, contractor, consultant, SME and representative body has different experiences across the sector and to limit their involvement will reduce the scope for sharing best practice, highlighting concerns in the delivery process, and narrow the breadth of information flowing to and from industry to government.”

The focus of the new council is to be on ‘work streams’ headed by council members but delivered with the support and funding of industry. Graham Watts said: “This work is already largely being led by the industry bodies who have taken forward initiatives on supply chain, payment, diversity, health and safety, procurement, BIM and so much more. This work will continue to be carried out by our members, both directly, through CIC and co-ordinated by the Strategic Forum for Construction.  The key issue will be aligning these initiatives with the new CLC”.  

Former CIC deputy chairman Jack Pringle, a past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, was the CIC’s first representative on the CLC and served as a member of the advisory group that set it up in 2012/13.   He said:  “Ironically one of the lasting legacies of the CLC was to cause industry to get its own house in order in preparation for the meetings with government at the CLC.  The reformed Strategic Forum for Construction is now a real representation of our complex industry and that is perhaps the lasting legacy of the industrial strategy – an initiative of Vince Cable that the new government appears to be jettisoning after just three years.”

The Construction Products Association (CPA) said that for the CLC to have any meaningful representation of the whole industry it had to include representation from construction product manufacturers. The government is talking to the Strategic Forum for Construction about identifying an individual who would connect that organisation to the CLC and bring a manufacturing perspective.

CPA chief executive Diana Montgomery said: “We are delighted to see BIS have acknowledged the Strategic Forum and its importance as the industry voice. However, manufacturing, and of course distribution, only offers one perspective from the group of five colleges making up the whole supply chain. The appointed chair will represent the voice of all construction not any individual member. If government is serious about speaking to industry about tackling the most important issues in construction, particularly productivity, then it needs to ensure that the whole construction supply chain is an important part of strategic discussions and decision making. Construction product manufacturing and distribution account for over one-third of the construction activity so it is remiss not to include an industry leader from this part of construction on the Construction Leadership Council.”

Comprised of five colleges the Strategic Forum for Construction (SFfC) includes manufacturers, specialist contractors, main contractors, professionals and clients (including government).  Tony Burton said that it was now “the only game in town that can provide a meaningful dialogue between all the parties”.

However, Chartered Institute of Building chief executive Christopher Blythe saw benefits in the reforms.  “At the CIOB we are encouraged by the change. We welcome the new emphasis on dialogue which means that government will be open to talk to anyone who has something useful to say.  If a business leader can bring a coalition together to fund work streams then it is likely to be more effective than government funded work streams. Business leaders don’t have time to waste and the focus might be a bit sharper.”

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