For those who missed it, Holmes, God bless him, wrote a spirited defence of the building industry. It is all the fashion these days to criticise the world's second-oldest profession: perhaps Holmes' letter is a sign of a new confidence. Such confidence could take root during National Construction Week if the industry would only resolve to stop damaging itself by endless soul-searching – a tendency that has been exacerbated most recently by the Egan committee.
This fashion of talking down the construction industry and those who work in it assumes that those tangentially involved with construction know better how to cure its ills than those who have spent their lives in it.
I have spent all my life in or around the construction industry. During those years, I gained a profound respect for the people who work in it. I found managers and artisans to be men and women of incredible imagination and energy; people who were humorous, skilled and often kind and who could stand hard work; and inventive people who knew how to tackle problems.
These qualities are being undermined by another great trend in the construction industry: that of accepting every new fashion its customers care to force on it. The industry has been turned on its head.
A dentist's customer would never dream of telling him how to improve his efficiency; they would just change to another dentist. And so it should be with construction. An industry built on management – and by management, I mean leadership – is now likely to be destroyed by management theory. This theory is produced by people who have taken good care to distance themselves from the financial risks that contractors take on every day.
The workforce is a contractor's greatest asset, but following the client's every whim has turned contractors into agencies for marshalling bids from a plethora of smaller firms. In fact, it has turned contractors into another arm of the client. The relationship between Bovis and Marks & Spencer is a much-vaunted example of this practice, yet Bovis is for sale, and Marks & Spencer is going through a bleak period.
Builders are closer to Savile Row tailors than to those who work in the Nissan car company. It is the workforce that really matters
Of course, there are bad builders, but there are bad hoteliers, bad retailers and, dare I say it, the notion of service at some of Sir John Egan's airports is often mislaid.
If construction was a production line, you could treat those who do the work as manufacturers. But each customer wants something different. Builders are closer to Savile Row tailors than to those who work in the Nissan car company. It is the workforce that really matters in construction.
Out of construction management a new breed of manager was born. The new breed may well know the ins and outs of critical-path planning, but it knows precious little about handling a workforce.
As for the clients, they encourage the bad tendencies of this kind of manager, buying from others the services that the best builders were providing already. The proposition of management contracting is ludicrous. On one contract, you find a contractor managing the very contractor that, on another contract, manages it. How wasteful this duplication must be.
Sadly, the new breed of manager wishes to keep as much distance from its workforce as possible; to try to introduce machinery and techniques in order to replace people, rather than to learn how to manage people. You only have to look at the recommendations of the construction taskforce to see that its conclusions are light years away from the notion of leadership, the quality that is used to persuade a body of men to do an often unpleasant job in an efficient and orderly manner. Its conclusions are too simplistic and its remedies too short term.
Construction is perhaps the world's most competitive industry, so if you believe in capitalism, let the marketplace be the industry's tutor. Efficient contractors will prosper, the inefficient will fail. As for the price, the market will keep that in line. Construction is about people, not theories.
Lord McAlpine is a writer and former treasurer of the Conservative Party.