National Construction Week highlighted the positive developments taking place in the industry. All we have to do now is keep this spirit alive all year round
It was a real pleasure to join in some of the events of National Construction Week. It also encouraged me to visit a few building sites, which emphasised the good news stories that exist in this industry, rather than the difficulties.

The prominence given to the Respect for People agenda was extremely welcome. If the turn-out for the conference on that theme, at the Cafe Royal in London, was anything to go by, there are grounds for hope that this is not only a government concern but that the industry, too, is firmly on board.

And that would be understandable. For the first time in years, many firms are having to compete seriously for labour. In many parts of the country we are as close to full employment as we are ever going to get. And, as in any buyer's market, the seller has to look a little bit harder at the attractiveness of what they are offering.

As I said at the Cafe Royal, none of this is exactly rocket science. We all know that the industry has to present an image that it is safe, inclusive and founded on good pay and conditions. But these objectives have to be approached in a systematic way rather than just paid lip service to – and that is what, until now, has been difficult to achieve.

It is, for instance, 18 months since the construction health and safety summit, initiated by John Prescott, at which key industry players pledged to reduce fatal and major accidents, ill health and days lost as a consequence of safety incidents.

The Health and Safety Executive's first report to ministers made clear that there had been no quick fixes and that nothing short of a fundamental culture change would deliver the results that had been signed up to.

At least the number of deaths on sites fell in the first year of this new approach – by 26 to 79 in the year to 31 March. But 79 deaths is still a pretty horrendous record for any industry to have hanging round its collective neck. It is certainly not the kind of statistic likely to encourage bright young recruits to sign on for a career in construction.

Seventy-nine deaths is not the kind of statistic likely to encourage bright young recruits to the industry

It will be very interesting to see if this downward trend is maintained. But I am not exactly reassured by the fact that in a recent blitz of sites by the HSE, conditions were so poor that half of them had to be closed down. Not much sign of a fundamental culture change there.

So what about the positives that I experienced during National Construction Week? Let me share two in particular. I did a double-header at the BBC in White City. First, I helped launch the new series of Learning Zone programmes aimed at potential recruits to the industry – these were jointly produced by the BBC's learning department and the Construction Industry Training Board. They are shown in the middle of the night, and recorded and used by colleges and training bodies. Apart from being extremely useful as information and recruitment tools, they are also a reminder of just how diverse a range of programmes and services we get from the BBC for our licence fee. I doubt if any other mainstream broadcaster in the world would commit resources to this kind of public service.

I also performed the topping-out ceremony on the latest phase of the White City development.

This is an exemplary project being carried out on a public–private partnership basis with Bovis Lend Lease. It is a model of how training can be applied to the benefit of the firm and the local community. The job also counters comments about the lack of ethnic diversity in the industry, with no fewer than 45 nationalities represented on site.

My other particularly good visit was in Yorkshire, where I attended an event at Woodkirk High School, near Wakefield, in which a few hundred senior pupils were impressed with an account of what the industry has to offer. The presentations were excellent and the event, sponsored by the Movement for Innovation, was just the kind of thing to make young people view construction as an attractive career option.