Leader: Let us shout about our Olympic achievements

10 April 2012

Elaine Knutt, CM editor

The No Marketing Rights Protocol imposed by the ODA and now LOCOG has had perverse effects (and few more perverse than the Welsh hoardings tale in this month’s vox pop). Now that we’re all used to frantic multichannel communication all day and every day, the remarkably successful media and marketing restrictions have created the sense that the Olympic construction project has been oddly detached from the rest of the industry.

As the Games approach, there’s still relatively little spotlight on the construction industry’s achievements, even though the Olympics has proved to be part of the “more for less” crusade by coming in under budget. 

Of course LOCOG wants to protect the Games and its sponsors from ambush marketing. Of course it would be inappropriate for a contractor to run a marketing campaign using Olympic imagery and over-blown claims. But the effect has been to deny firms the chance to discuss their work in the media, to share it with their clients or to talk about it at conferences.

The amount raised by the International Olympic Committee from the 11 main corporate sponsors across the London and Vancouver Games was US$957m – small compared with the £9.3bn raised from the UK taxpayer to construct the London venue alone. One of the Games’ legacies was to give a boost to the hard-pressed UK construction industry’s productivity and profitability. So news reports that LOCOG is talking to its lawyers to see if a compromise position can be found are very welcome.

Strategic thinking

Given the cross-departmental knitting required on the government’s BIM roll-out, it’s impressive it’s managed to get moving at all. The Level 2 BIM mandate means every commissioning department will have to procure, brief and tender differently and develop new reporting and occupancy procedures.

It’s hard to imagine that kind of co-ordination happening before chief construction adviser Paul Morrell came on board. His integrating role has helped government achieve a clearer view of the scale of its construction spend, and the scale of potential efficiency savings set out in his construction strategy last May. 

BIM appears to have gained more traction than other elements in the plan, which include project bank accounts, the PAS 91 prequalification questionnaire
and moves to open up government contracts to SMEs.

CM and the CIOB have launched an online survey to find out what members think of the strategy so far. Please let us know your views. The results will be published in next month’s issue.

Elaine Knutt, editor


Letters, and comments posted on CM’s website over the past month

CITB levy favours larger firms

Kathy Bachler, director, BAC Construction

On Tuesday 20 March, the CITB Levy Order quietly slipped through the House of Commons General Committee, taking less than half an hour to debate.

The new order cuts the levy for the smallest contractors “in scope” — employers whose salary bill (for staff and payments to labour-only subcontractors) is between £80,000-£100,000 will receive a 50% reduction on their levy payments. Welcome news, but the levy and grant system still clearly favours the larger employer to the detriment of micro and SME employers.

The key discrepancy is the substantially higher levy paid by employers who use mainly labour only subcontractors (LOSC) of 1.5% of their salary bill compared with only 0.5% paid by those who employ staff in a PAYE scheme.

The grant system also favours the large employers with the resources to co-ordinate training plans and run apprenticeship schemes to try to reclaim their levy in full. Often, they get more back in grant than they paid in levy.

Surely it’s time to abolish this out-dated system and replace it with genuine employer involvement and decision-making in skills development. Is a fairer system to impose a levy on construction clients, as they do in Australia? 

Interviews should remain

Robert Hayward MCIOB, senior building control officer, Dudley Building Control

I read Alan Crane’s letter (26 January) on changes to the professional review with a heavy heart. I feel disappointed in the move to omit the mandatory interview
for candidates wishing to gain full membership of the CIOB. The interview is an opportunity to better understand who the real person is as a professional.

Will proposed strengthening of the first two written parts of the review process be robust enough to find out what is needed from the candidate? Would you employ someone without meeting them in an interview?

Coalition failing SMEs, says survey

Eddie Monk

I was a self-employed surveyor working for Brent council between 2004 and 2008. There were a few consultants who were small, local and very good and offered advice for “no charge”. It was decided to go to tender again, allowing new consultants to tender. All our original consultants were rejected on the grounds that they were too small. Assistance from the new surveyors, whose charges were £65 an hour, was often not good. A senior person was £105 an hour.


Eddie’s experiences are all-too-familiar, working for local authorities I have experienced similar tactics. Partnering is the way many are going, which completely cuts out any smaller contractors who have relied on this work for many years.

Vox pop

Should LOCOG relax the no marketing rights protocol for construction firms?

Peter Gracia, Director, Gracia Consult

The stranglehold on publicity extends well beyond firms on site. I’ve been involved in a large refurbishment project on a Victorian town hall in south Wales, on the planned route of the Olympic torch, and we’ve been forced to blank out any wording on hoardings round the building that might be construed as marketing. Not only does this have a negative impact, it also has a cost not accounted for in the Olympic budget. It’s a deprived area of Wales where public services are being cut to the bone, yet the authorities will have spent large amounts of money blanking out signs.

The torch route has been designed to pass by the premises of the event’s corporate sponsors, rather than places of local interest. So what should be a huge public event has effectively been bought out by a few corporations.

Saul Townsend, Press manager, Chartered Institute of Building

The marketing protocol needs to be relaxed as many firms have missed out on a chance to showcase their work. The CIOB worked with the ODA on the Lessons Learned project to spread best practice on the Olympic site. But restrictions were so tight that some of those asked to speak could not mention who they worked for unless their employer was a sponsor or an ODA ambassador.

It’s a matter of common sense that people don’t exploit the Olympics by using the logo on their shirts and so on. They just want to take credit for their part in a fantastic project.

Mo Morgan, Marketing manager, Lakesmere

Specialist contractors are further down the food chain than corporate sponsors and feel closed out of the process, so it would be good to relax the restrictions.

The Aquatics Centre would have been a great project for us to showcase our engineering and design skill but the confidentiality agreement prevented it. All media queries have to be directed through our client, Balfour Beatty, which consults the ODA. We can talk about the Olympics with clients when tendering for work, but by tendering stage it is already late in the process and publicity would be better directed at generating new enquiries.

Gill Parker, Joint Managing Director, BDG Architects

With the economy so weak the Olympics is a great story for British construction and design that isn’t being allowed to be told. LOCOG shouldn’t be nervous of negative media coverage; it should be confident the Games has been delivered on time and on budget with many examples of best practice. The Olympics is a massive event and sponsors will always get the lion’s share of the publicity, so penalising others seems unnecessary.

Oliver Bray, Partner, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain

The protocol is in place for good reason: the International Olympic Committee requires protective legislation when awarding licences to nations to host the Games and to protect sponsors whose money is essential for their operation.

While the restrictions on the ability of organisations to associate themselves with the Games are strict, the idea of LOCOG relaxing the guidance would send mixed signals and encourage the type of ambush marketing that they want to prevent.

The chances of LOCOG allowing a chink in their protective armour at this stage must be remote, not least for the risk of opening the floodgates to unauthorised Games association at the time they least need it.

Mike Smith, CIOB CBC chair, managing director Corniche Builders

Unless there’s a threat to national security, it is churlish to stop a firm using its involvement with a project to market itself. Most of the public do not know who is doing what at the Olympic site and a bit of self-congratulation is good for a firm and its operatives’ morale in today’s zero-margin climate. Politicians will be sure to take credit for our achievements if we don’t. Excluding smaller companies [from publicity] also goes against the current policy of promoting SMEs and attracting apprentices/trainees into the industry. Let’s use this brilliant example of the industry to kick start that process.

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