Interiors: Fire safety and quality top FIS priorities

29 October 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

Recently appointed as chief executive of the FIS, the trade body for the finishes and interiors sector, Iain McIlwee tells Neil Gerrard why the industry’s culture is changing.

What are your plans for the FIS following your appointment in July this year?

The FIS exists to help. The interior fit out sector is probably one that is not that well understood. My plan first and foremost is to make sure people understand what the sector is and the value that it delivers. The FIS is already a strong community but we need to develop and grow that and bring new people and fresh ideas in. We shouldn’t be static – we should evolve around the need of the industry.

What areas are your members telling you they need help with?

Fire safety is number one without a shadow of a doubt, but with that goes quality. I genuinely believe we are starting to move to an environment where people are starting to look for more quality in construction and question some of the value engineering that goes on. Also fundamental to quality construction are things like acoustics, wellbeing and sustainability. We need to start measuring all of those things more effectively.

“Grenfell was a game-changer. People suddenly had a pretty horrific reminder as to what risks they carry and what the result of failure could be, so we have to start looking at competence from a point of public safety.”

Iain McIlwee, FIS

Image: Stewart Attwood

How is the FIS responding to the Hackitt review?

Grenfell was a game-changer. People suddenly had a pretty horrific reminder as to what risks they carry and what the result of failure could be, so we have to start looking at competence from a point of public safety. We are supporting the Hackitt review.

It is easy to come up with simple systems but construction is incredibly complicated and that is where our three Ps are fundamental. They are: Product – keep records of the specification, test evidence, purchase orders and delivery notes;
Process – keep dated site images of the installation, especially elements that will be covered up in the final build; and People – record who installed the system using records from their CSCS cards and their relevant qualifications and training.

One of the things that happens in construction is that as an industry – and this is a sweeping generalisation – we have been very good at working out how to cover everyone’s bums rather than manage project risk. We have been involved in supporting the creation of the RIBA Plan of Work for Fire Safety and that also gives us a really good process to follow and manage safely through the construction supply chain.

What work are you doing when it comes to skills in the sector?

Skills is another massive area for the FIS. It is about how we continue to manage and monitor quality on the people side in a sector with a high labour force of labour-only subcontractors.

FIS has some pretty ambitious skills projects running at the moment, starting with our “I Built This”, which aims to attract people who want work in construction, through to “Build Me” which is around people who have already opted for construction doing diplomas and making sure they have work experience opportunities. And we have got “BuildBack” which is about bringing long-term unemployed people back into the sector. We are also moving towards a more carded workforce.

How many members do you have and how much do you hope to grow?

It stands at about 450 companies at the moment. The target is to get as many people as possible into membership but we should be able to get to 1,000 over the next three years without breaking too much of a sweat.

What other hot topics are affecting the sector at the moment?

The productivity of construction is a key theme at the moment. Two of the areas where we have let ourselves down since time immemorial is with contractual terms and payment. FIS takes a very active role in looking at how we can improve both of those.

We have been supporters of the Aldous Bill. We support Build UK’s Roadmap to Zero Retentions – it is just the “by when” bit that we have concerns about, because cash retentions have no place in the modern business world. We waste too much time and money faffing around on contracts and parcelling up risk and not allowing money to flow through the supply chain as it should.

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