Opinion

Our Olympic flame must keep on burning

11 July 2012

Denise Chevin, associate editor

The formula for the perfect project has been in the making for well over a decade. The foundations were laid by Latham and Egan, and added to and honed by the likes of the National Audit Office, Constructing Excellence and other industry bodies. By now there’s enough of a consensus that integrated teams work best for the client, that everyone needs to be able to make a profit, the supply chain need to get paid on time and the workforce kept safe and well looked after. The perfect project is well designed and sustainable. And although a culture of self-employment is an accepted norm, it’s hard to find a construction manager who wouldn’t turn the clock back to the days when the industry was well stocked with apprentices and employees on the books. We know instinctively what the ideal looks like. Bringing all these factors together, however, has been more elusive. 

Enter the Olympics. The £9.3bn project is text-book to the letter. It pulled together everything we know ought to work, and proved that it does. The Olympics laid the ghosts of Wembley to rest and expunged the notion that the industry will always be a dangerous place to work. It has truly harnessed and inspired the sector. It got contractors sharing ideas, and workers eating healthy breakfasts. It’s not been without casualties and disputes, but as Sir John Armitt points out, these tended to be where the ODA lapsed back to lump sum contracting. Enough said there. In total, it’s a humdinger of a performance that’s a credit to everyone from the top of the ODA down to the newest apprentice.

But what now? Is this a one-off gold medal performance, or will it, as we ask in our feature on page 14, leave a lasting legacy? Stacking up against it is that not all clients have the vision, the political need, or the downright manpower to drive through such all-encompassing demands and then, importantly, to ensure that they are delivered. That said, there is no reason why public sector projects shouldn’t take on board the 2012 Commitments that were at the heart of the ODA’s procurement strategy.

There’s also the fact that the scale of the Olympics is far bigger than much else that comes along in the sector. But both of those factors should not stop building firms the length of the UK learning from and taking up the culture, taking something, if not everything, from the construction of the Games.

Nowhere is this more urgently welcome than in health and safety. As the HSE’s Philip White says, daily safety briefings and supervisor training, which those working on the Olympics put great store by, can be held on any site, employing 20 or 12,000 people. Turning construction routinely into a place of work where the odds are no more stacked against those working on site than those in an office would be the most welcome legacy of all.

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