So Sir John Egan has finally been relieved of the burden of dragging the construction industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
The news that the Strategic Forum is to replace Egan’s seminal targets comes as we approach the 10th anniversary of the publication of Rethinking Construction, the first of the former BAA boss’ two reports. Many readers will best remember it for kicking off the craze for partnering. For a time that was almost all we wrote about in Building.
But times change. This was pretty clear at Building’s recent Phase One event for new construction professionals, when we asked some of the attendees what partnering and Egan meant to them and were met with blank faces. This should not be seen as a reflection of the worth of what Egan wanted to achieve – namely to rid the industry of the vicious infighting that was slowly poisoning it – rather it is that the time is ripe for something new.
So is simply renaming the 2012 Construction Commitments that were penned in 2006 for the London Olympics the way to go? On the face of it, yes. They may be open to the accusation of being too vague, but the commitments fill two important gaps in Egan: health and safety, and sustainability. The Strategic Forum has pledged to ensure that the commitments are effective by setting a series of targets for each of the six areas. For instance, there will be a target to reduce the number of deaths on site by a certain amount and another around the amount of waste that goes to landfill.
So far so good, but come 2018, what these commitments really need is teeth. The 2012 commitments have succeeded in signing up 351 firms – if only for the simple reason that no signature means no work on the Games. There will be no such carrot once the commitments are broadened to the whole industry. Then the only incentive will be avoiding the shame of not signing up. There is nothing in the commitments – outside perhaps of the commitment to project bank accounts – that ought to cause contractors to take fright but it is unclear whether this will be enough to make them sign up.
The hope is obviously that, with construction minister Baroness Vadera now sticking her head above the parapet for the first time since taking up her new brief in January and backing the plan, that big-spending government clients will refuse to work with supply chains that haven’t signed up. Peter Rogers – the man who did most to pull the 2012 Construction Commitments together – has said that he is confident that big developers such as Hammerson and Land Securities will follow the lead of his firm Stanhope.
As with Egan, nobody in the industry will stand up and say they are against these commitments. What will determine whether or not we are marking the success or failure of this initiative a decade from now is whether or not the industry has the courage to sign on the dotted line.
Stuart Macdonald, deputy editor