Verbal faux pas are just one symptom of the coalition’s growing apathy towards the promotion of the green agenda in construction, says Richard Steer
All of us have cause to regret things we have done or said in the heat of the moment. Those of us that have not made this error are as rare as a Chris Huhne traffic offence. At a recent meeting with industry representatives, Greg Barker, Huhne’s surviving minister for climate change, described the industry reaction to the cuts in the feed-in-tariff scheme as “hysterical” and “unfounded”. With his own department then showing around a 30% rise in the number of short-term job cuts following the cut in the tariff shortly after the reported shout-fest, I bet he regretted using those words.
The Danes, Germans, Spanish and Americans have all seen China leapfrog them to become the world’s foremost producer of solar technology. Where is the UK in this eco gold rush?
The government’s construction adviser and co-chair of the Green Construction Board, Paul Morrell, may also rue recent comments on coalition colleagues when he was recently quoted as saying that those in government are “under-informed by reality” - he was alluding to their plans for reducing carbon emissions from homes. It seems to me that this is a polite way of saying that his political colleagues don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to carbon zero housing. We thought it was his role to advise the government on the impact of policies and to stop them making silly mistakes. Either he is not being heard or worse still being ignored.
I suspect neither option will thrill him.
I have just returned from China where the government tends to think very carefully before it says anything. They apparently want to substitute the “old” expensive producers with “new” energy-efficient companies and are prepared to embrace those that have the technological expertise to help them achieve this objective. Western business has the bulk of the talent and the Chinese have a fund worth around €600bn which they intend to use to assist them to move to clean energy. This will include cleaner coal, nuclear and hydropower, as well as solar and wind technology. The Danes, Germans, Spanish and Americans have all seen China leapfrog them to become the world’s foremost producer of wind and solar technology. Where is the UK in this eco gold rush?
Either the government’s construction adviser is not being heard or worse still being ignored. I suspect neither option will thrill him
Our government’s reaction to a more sustainable economy is epitomised by the news that Michael Gove, secretary of state for education and a member of the prime minister’s “inner circle”, is considering scrapping the requirement for schools to be built or refurbished using the BREEAM standard for environmental performance. There has been something of an outcry from those in the industry who value BREEAM and understand its value, and a deafening silence from the Green Construction Board which does not appear to have been consulted by Gove’s department. Gove himself while in opposition in 2009, said: “For far too long, out-of-touch bureaucrats have imposed faddy ideologies on our schools.” I wonder if many describe BREEAM as a “faddy ideology”. But there are some that may well claim that clearly his civil servants are totally “out of touch” on this issue.
Finally with news of yet another high-profile disappearance from the QS world, it is clear that what you say in public can come back to haunt you later. Jeremy Horner, the recently departed global chief executive of Davis Langdon, was quoted last summer explaining the departure of directors at the QS practice following the takeover by US giant Aecom. At that time he said: “What affects morale is how people feel about the security of their job … we can reassure people … by sending out a clear message about future strategy and growth.” Now very suddenly and without a “clear” explanation, Horner himself has departed. Another takeover target, consultant EC Harris, was bought by Dutch engineer Arcadis last year, a deal crafted and delivered by chairman and chief executive Harrie Noy. He said at the time when asked about possible departures following acquisition: “Most of the firms we have acquired have been partnerships. If I think how many of the partners are still with us, only a few have left. It’s critical.” Last month, without warning, Noy announced his own departure after 37 years at the helm. Although it seems disappointing that with the merger still in its infancy the guiding hand responsible for the deal should not be around to see it mature, one can hardly blame him for leaving after such a long time at the helm. He, for one, may now not need to be as circumspect in his comments as the rest of us in this age of tweets, blogs and social networking.
Richard Steer is chairman of Gleeds Worldwide