Colin Harding If the government would just leave us alone and stop interfering with its feeble regulations and all-encompassing spin, we could get on with building for the Olympics
The more the Blair–Brown government tries to spin its way out of the country’s problems, the worse they seem to become. They are caught in a downward spiral of their own spin, sucking in all aspects of our private and business lives.
By chance I was in Buro Happold’s offices on 6 July last year when we learned that London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games had won. We were kindly invited to join their Olympic bid team (and the rest of the office) to watch the announcement from Singapore.
It was a pleasure to be able to share the pride and euphoria of the bid team, on being part of this brilliant, winning, world-class proposal. Together with the other talented teams, the success of the bid showed that multidisciplinary groups of our leading constructors, working as an integrated team with politicians and civil servants, can make UK construction a global market leader.
Our flexible and inventive industry can cope with such a project as easily as falling off a log – provided, that is, we are allowed to get on with the job without all the obfuscation that spinners generate.
Since last autumn the construction industry has been bombarded by what must be the most sustained spin and scare campaign directed at any industry in the history of political propaganda. Anyone and everyone who plays the smallest role in supervising or regulating construction is claiming that the sheer size and intensity of the 2012 construction project spells disaster unless construction buys into their particular angle.
This is based on the erroneous claim that the 2012 construction project is so big that our industry will be unable to cope with it. EC Harris calculates that the total cost will be £2-2.8bn a year, which is only 2.5% of construction’s normal annual output (7 July, page 11). As Richard Steer explains on page 26, fitting it in is not an issue.
So far the Olympic Delivery Authority appears to have the project well under control. The Olympic stadium will be a fast-track design-and-build job, but hopefully not too fast, remembering Laing’s rushed bid for the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The overall programme has been reviewed and firmed up, giving more than adequate time for the full design of all projects to be completed before work starts on site.
The construction industry has been bombarded by what must be the most sustained spin and scarecampaign in the history of political propaganda
But what about the workers – I mean us, the contractors, subcontractors and specialists who must work up and execute all these designs but are still in the dark? What has become clear is that the 12 month spin offensive was purely to soften up construction for the imposition of the government’s “2012 Construction Commitments”. These weak and woolly regulations are to be applied to all construction contracts, not just the 2.5% emanating from the 2012 project.
Like most spun proposals the commitments avoid tackling the real issues such as:
• Retentions. These are condoned rather than outlawed as I argued they should be in my column of 21 October 2005
• No obligations are imposed on the supervisors and consultants to improve their contractual performance
• Caving into union pressure to create 20th-century closed shops.
The government has to get a grip on reality. The only way to reform our industry so that it improves its performance is to drastically reduce the amount of unnecessary interference, not increase it. The ODA has got it right in going for full design-and-build for the Olympic stadium. Extend this ethos to the whole of the project, and let the competent integrated design-and-build teams do the rest. Modern construction can do it within all the targets – provided the government stops spinning us into a virtual crisis.
Remember that when the master spinner Alistair Campbell helped out on the 2005 British & Irish Lions rugby tour? Our side was stuffed in all three tests.
Colin Harding is chairman of Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding