News Roundup: July/August 2010

2 July 2010

Training targets man in a van

Construction’s micro-businesses – commonly characterised as the “man in a van” brigade – are to be given a skills boost in a pilot initiative in the west and south-west of England, aimed at improving the level of service they offer to homeowners, writes Stephen Cousins.

Constructing Excellence South West and Local Authority Building Control, which represents council-run Building Control departments, will be running a total of 14 one-day events in the region for SMEs, starting this autumn.

Topics will cover health and safety, general business skills and sustainable construction, including recent updates to the Building Regulations and information on how Building Control can help builders deliver low-carbon alternatives.

The courses are targeted at companies with fewer than five employees, which account for 80-90% of construction firms. “Employees from these companies tend not to attend industry events and seminars even when they are free,” says Tom Harper, regional director of Constructing Excellence. “And only a small percentage of the total belongs to organisations such as the Federation of Master Builders.

“We’ve had a real issue getting to that group, they’ve been out of the training loop for years. But we hope we’re in the foothills of
a better relationships with that part of the industry.”

The fact that so many construction SMEs are left out in the cold becomes critical in the light of the massive programme required to improve the efficiency of existing homes.

“If we’re not careful we will be revisiting the situation in the 1960s, with home owners getting work done piecemeal instead of whole house upgrades and unknowledgeable local builders giving the wrong advice. The industry needs a more co-ordinated package involving the small builder,” adds Harper.

Constructing Excellence, the LABC and industry campaign Working Well Together will provide the training at local authority venues.

Anna Thompson, director of training at LABC, says: “The events are a natural extension of our relationship with small builders in helping them maximise Building Regulation compliance and guide them through the regulatory maze. We want to encourage them to view training as an essential selling point to potential customers, who are often seeking reassurance that they have selected the right builder for their project.”


Ombudsman takes view on double glazing

The backers of the new Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman scheme are predicting that the two-month-old scheme will protect consumers from the continued problem of rogue traders.

The scheme, paid for by installers, will offer buyers a vetted installer, workmanship guarantees even if the firm goes out of business, and free access to inspectors, professional mediators and an independent Ombudsman.

It is backed by former BBC Watchdog presenter Nick Ross. “Over 200 firms have applied already, which says something about how much the industry itself is crying out for an initiative to raise standards,” he says.

Consumer group Which? has highlighted the dubious tactics used to sell double glazing in the July issue of its magazine. In CM in May, a Which? spokesman called for a similar ombudsman scheme in construction.

£1,000 scholarship launched for construction diploma students

A £1,000 scholarship awaits the most promising young student working towards the Construction and Built Environment Diploma at this year’s Construction Manager of the Year Awards.

The winner of the new annual CIOB award, which is intended to motivate and encourage young people to take up careers in the built environment, will be selected from the best performers on Level 3 of the C&BE Diploma.

To be eligible for the prize, students must have achieved an overall grade B to A* and a good profile of grades for their principle learning and project modules.

“This prize could make a real difference to a student’s future education. It is there to help encourage even more talent into this vibrant industry,” said Nick Gooderson, head of training and qualifications at ConstructionSkills, which works with the CIOB in the Diploma Development Partnership.

The winning entry will be judged by representatives from the CIOB and the Diploma Delivery Partnership team. The winner will receive their award at the CMYA ceremony on 14 October in the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane. 

Interest in the C&BE Diploma is on the increase. A total of 3,291 youngsters have enrolled to start the course in September 2010, compared to a 1,700 intake in 2009 and 1,548 in 2008.

Green map is plotted

The CIOB’s newly established environmental task force will aim to provide members with a simple roadmap on meeting future government sustainability targets.

The CIOB Carbon Reduction Working Group was set up in May to take forward the Institute’s low-carbon agenda. Chaired by current vice president Alan Crane, with input from nine senior members and ambassadors with backgrounds in social housing, quantity surveying, building control, and archeological conservation, the group has 12 months to revise the CIOB’s environmental policies related to education and accreditation, government lobbying and best industry practice.

The task force will focus on low-carbon issues, rather than biodiversity or social issues, says Fiona Roberts, policy, research and ambassador development manager at the CIOB and will aim to address issues outlined in chief construction adviser Paul Morrell’s report on delivering a low-carbon construction industry. It will also review how the CIOB works with government to ensure relevant environmental standards are in place.

A fundamental goal is to help members meet low-carbon and zero-carbon requirements, explains Roberts: “Government emissions targets are the main driver for our research and specifically helping the industry meet the looming 2020 emissions reduction deadline, leading up to the required 80% reduction in carbon by 2050.

“We will aim to promote best practice in the industry and give members best practice advice on meeting individual government targets through simple key messages that detail practical steps required to meet each target.”

Members can access this information via the CIOB website, promotional material, plus events and training delivered in partnership with industry.

The working group will also focus on education and aims to ensure the Institute’s education framework takes better account of low-carbon issues by revising both CIOB-awarded qualifications, and the accreditation and assessment of university courses.

Haiti opens up to housing ideas

The government of Haiti is holding an international competition to find  alternative forms of housing for its displaced citizens.

The contest is geared towards exemplar designs for transitional housing that can be built quickly and last a generation prior to full reconstruction.

The competition, called Building Back Better Communities, is organised for the government by Malcolm Reading Consultants and based on a concept developed by architect John McAslan.

A shortlist will be drawn up by the start of next month and finalists will be invited to come to Haiti in the middle of July.

A government-backed expo in October will be held on the site to showcase all the designs – from bespoke community-build to mass-produced housing units. Finalists’ schemes will be built on a 2ha plot on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince. However, the competition is also seeking designs for a low-energy, exemplar housing settlement to be built on an adjacent 3ha plot later this year, giving more companies a chance to participate.

The competition will prioritise entries that engage with local communities, employ Haitian staff, or involve local manufacturing.

Month in numbers


The level of a proposed “training wage” to be paid to recently graduated students. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development research shows that 37% of internships are currently unpaid.


The percentage of respondents in a survey from the BPF and law firm Taylor Wessing who said a government target to make all new commercial property zero carbon by 2019 was unrealistic.


The amount, in pounds each year, the government may withdraw from the Zero Carbon Hub, the independent body set up to help deliver zero-carbon housing.


Minimum estimate of Multiplex’s costs for its legal battle with Mott MacDonald over the design of Wembley Stadium. The parties have settled out of court.


The value, in pounds, of new health and transport projects approved by the government, despite recent cutbacks and delays to schemes.

Seoul of inspiration: the idea was hatched in the South Korean capital

Get ready for International Construction Management Day

Mark the date in your diary: Monday 14 March 2011 will be the first ever International Construction Management Day. The CIOB has joined forces with sister organisations from the US, Japan and Korea to agree that they will jointly use the second Monday of every March to promote construction management around the world.

The declaration, dated 29 April 2010, says: “We, as the professionals of the world construction community, should exert our efforts to promote the effectiveness of construction management more widely and facilitate the broadest adoption of construction management for the perfect construction of our global village ...

“International Construction Management Day provides the opportunity for each national or regional construction management community, along with individual practitioners, academics and other allies, to promote and celebrate construction management in its own way.”

Representatives from the International Project Management Association, the Construction Management Association of America, the Construction Management Association of Japan and the Construction Management Association of Korea evolved the plan at a meeting held during a jointly organised construction management conference in Seoul, Korea in April this year.

CIOB deputy chief executive Michael Brown, who attended the meeting in Seoul, said: “We were talking about how we could promote construction management, because there’s a great lack of understanding of construction management, and we came up with this idea of International Construction Management Day.”

Brown also presented the CIOB’s new definition of construction management, due to be approved at the CIOB’s AGM in Shanghai at the end of last month, to his international colleagues. “They were very supportive of what they were hearing,” reported Brown.

In preparation for the March event, the institute is planning to commission an animated film to help describe the skills involved in construction management to a general audience. “It’s difficult to explain what it means for today’s society. This film will be used to show people what it encompasses,” said CIOB press and communications manager Saul Townsend. 

The CIOB will also be encouraging accredited universities to use the day to promote their courses and careers in construction. It will also be talking to its international branches to gather their ideas and input.

Kathryn Hiddleston, Grant Thornton

Q&A: Kathryn Hiddleston, head of construction, Grant Thornton

A survey by business adviser Grant Thornton shows that 70% are confident of a full economic recovery in construction within 18 months. But is their optimism well-founded in the light of last month’s Budget?

Were the survey respondents a little too optimistic?

Generally, yes, although some will be feeling more confident than others because construction covers such a huge range of sectors. Order books are there for the next 12 months, but beyond that there is real concern. Having said that, most of the industry has already taken action to cut back.

Who are the winners and losers in the Budget?

The Budget sounded positive for the big civils firms initially: capital spending will not be cut beyond what is already planned. But an infrastructure plan review is set for this autumn and the chancellor also announced an investigation to reduce costs on civil engineering works.

Talk of “encouraging” local councils to cut their budgets means councils will try to cut their capital spending. They are big providers of work so that will impact on the medium tier firms.

As for the housing sector, although capital gains tax was not as bad as expected, the fact that it has risen will have a knock-on effect in the second house market, causing downward valuations in lower tier properties.

Will bank lending increase this year to help the private sector fill the gap left by public sector spending cuts?

Banks tend to be fairly quiet over the summer, so we need to be looking at this autumn. By that time, either the economy will pick up – and I don’t think that will happen – or the banks will have to prune. They will call in their debts and businesses that do not have strong business models will go under. However, if the banks do recover funds, that money can be pumped back into the economy.

According to the report, 62% of construction businesses plan to make significant changes to target markets. Is this realistic?

It’s very difficult to pick up new sector knowledge. The rail sector looks healthy, for example, but it’s a closed shop. If you are a large firm, you can merge with or acquire another firm that has that knowledge – and there is quite a lot of appetite out there for that at the moment.

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