Opinion

Editorial: Making the industry case project by project

11 January 2010

Elaine Knutt, CM Editor

The end of 2009 brought stark statistics on job losses in construction. To the end of the third quarter, around 200,000 jobs had been lost in the sector.

Overall, there has been an 8.2% shrinkage in construction employment, compared to 2.5% in the wider economy. And while the number of benefit claimants will be less - due to managers and operatives turning to self-employment, or finding jobs outside the industry -the figures are an indication of the industry’s levels of pain.

In previous recessions, we could be confident that the graphs would bounce back, with rising investment confidence pulling employment rates up with it.

Compared to other sectors, construction is of course relatively quick and efficient at turning funding into jobs. But this time, the prognosis is for long-term public spending constraint and a muted private sector still dealing with the hangover of a credit binge and inflated property values.

The argument that construction is an efficient lever of economic growth - as advanced last November by the CBI/UKCG report - is a strong one. Whether we have a Labour or Conservative administration by the summer, let’s hope ministers recognise that communities’ ongoing needs for new schools, homes, hospitals and transport infrastructure can be catalysed into jobs, tax income and prosperity by construction investment.

But if we want to make the case that construction investment flows beyond contractors’ bottom lines and out into communities and employment, then that argument has to be made over and over again. It has to be evident in training, in community engagement, in buildings that advance our understanding of green construction and genuinely meet clients’ long-term needs. Every project that fails to deliver on this wider concept of value undermines the industry’s vital case.

Elaine Knutt, editor

Feedback

New look doesn’t reflect members’ roles, Nigel Brookes ICIOB

I have recently received the new updated magazine for November/December, and have to say that I was not very impressed.

For me, it seemed like a huge leap forward for project management and away from anything else at all. As someone who has worked in the construction industry for most of my life and a former member of the now absorbed Architects and Surveyors’ Institute, I deplore the change we now see in the themes covered. I have worked as a QS, estimator, a building surveyor, property manager, land surveyor, maintenance surveyor and health and saftey officer, but we hardly ever hear mention of these roles within the magazine.

There are many other people employed on construction projects other than the project manager, and most of them are just as essential to a profitable outcome for the project. Is this really a magazine for members of the Institute or just a slick new advertising venture?

I can’t read the small print, Dennis Green

My verdict on the first issue of the new look magazine – 6 out of 10. One of my favourite items is Month in Numbers, but this month it was hardly readable. Further on, I was into reading one of the letters on page 11 when I realised I had written it.

Then I could just make out my name at the top. Another favourite is Ann Wright’s case notes, but why such tiny print?

As for Contact, no diary of events, an assumption that every reader has an internet connection, and about 16% empty space on each page. And a heavier font for most of the items would make for easier reading. After all, that’s what you want us to do, isn’t it?

We have increased the type size on Ann Wright’s column, and hope you think it’s an improvement – Ed.

CDM 2007 report was misleading, Roger Hatton CMIOSH

The article in the November/December issue headlined “CDM 2007 struggles as stress rises” states that the CDM 2007 regulations are “failing to raise standards across the board, according to a CIOB online survey”. But in evidence of this you have shown a bar chart demonstrating the responses to the question “What impact has CDM 2007 had on how you address health and safety?”

The bar chart is not indicative of whether CDM 2007 is failing to raise standards and, can be interpreted to show that 64% of respondents feel that CDM 2007 has had a positive impact on how they address H&S. This is positive support for CDM yet the article gives the impression that the opposite is true.

More info on rooftop cricketers, Brian Bullock

On reading your picture story about “roof cricket” (Construction Manager, October 2009) it seemed a little unfair on readers to identify the project manager and not to give names and interesting details on other members of the team.

Corrections

In our coverage of the 2009 Construction Manager of the Year Awards, we made two accidental transpositions of the winners’ photographs. Instead of showing £5-£7m gold winner Adrian Kelly on page 28, we repeated a photograph of fellow medalist Peter Roberts. Likewise on page 35, we used a photo of medalist Richard Tyler instead of Kieran Gardiner, silver medal winner in the Restoration category. Our sincere apologies to both.

In the October 2009 “Month in numbers” section on page 7, we said that Rok had been fined £20,000 over the death of a worker at Heathrow. In fact, the fine was in relation to the worker’s serious injury.

Illustration by Patrick Lewis

Vox pop

What do you hope newly-appointed construction tsar Paul Morrell will achieve in 2010?

Morrell needs to improve the public image of construction, which is still seen as being a bit dodgy, especially since the recent bid-rigging scandal. There’s also a false assumption among the public that builders earn lots of money, when in reality many firms’ margins have been driven down to almost nothing.

I’d hope Morrell can raise construction’s profile, we’re perhaps the largest employer in the country, which has also suffered the largest job losses in the recession, yet we barely get a mention in the news media.

Matthew Roberts ACIOB, director, Swift Horsman Group

I’d expect him to get his teeth into government departments to ensure public sector projects get better value out of procurement. There are still lots of inefficiencies and inconsistencies in public sector procurement, and we need to show the government it can get a better return on taxpayers’ money. A key challenge will be to make the Strategic Forum more relevant to modern construction. He’ll need to reinvigorate it to prove to doubters that it hasn’t had its day and is more accessible to the industry and also more relevant to modern industry agendas.

Engaging with the low-carbon economy is critical. By next year I’d like to see evidence that he is creating more opportunities for UK companies to address the challenges of UK environmental legislation.

Peter Cunningham, head of client group, Constructing Excellence

I want to see him make positive steps to bring skills back into the industry. Even though there’s a recession there’s still a glaring lack of skilled workers, which will become even more apparent when the economy gets back on its feet.

I’d hope to see VAT on repair and maintenance work cut to 5% during his tenure – this type of work could be a huge benefit to the industry, but people need to be encouraged to spend money on their properties.

With his strong industry background and knowledge he seems to have the right credentials as a leader. However, I wonder if three days week is enough?

Phillip Hall MCIOB, managing director, Hall Construction

Morrell has been quoted as saying he won’t be lobbying on behalf of large construction firms, which I think is a good stance. But I’d still hope that in 12 months he will support and be the voice of SMEs in the industry. Small businesses are the backbone of construction, they deliver 90% of the work in the industry. The large companies are full of construction managers, but they need the SMEs in the supply chain to deliver for them. There’s a problem with large public sector frameworks, they’re structured so that large companies come in and mop all the work, and the smaller contractors don’t get a chance. The low carbon agenda is also important, but the first step is to get the economy going, so that businesses invest.

Canute Simpson MCIOB, Smart Objectives

I would hope that the structural fabric of buildings and fundamental design principles are emphasised as the first steps to designing sustainably. One of his key objectives should be to help provide real guidance to designers and contractors in how to deliver low-carbon buildings in a challenging economic climate.

Rebecca Boam MCIOB, design manager, Bowmer & Kirkland

I’d like to see changes in the way the industry delivers buildings from concept to completion, in particular I think our customers would benefi t from contractors taking the lead during design development.

To facilitate greater contractor leadership of design development he needs to advocate the benefits of partnering and early contractor project involvement. This would also have the benefi t of minimising procurement and tendering costs.

Mark Beard FCIOB, managing director, Beard Construction

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