“Item 1: If we scrapped ourselves tomorrow, would anybody notice?” One suspects that this is unlikely to appear on the agenda when members of the Strategic Forum for Construction next meet. But it wouldn’t be a bad starting point for their discussions, would it?
The forum was set up in 2001 to oversee the development of the Egan reform process and to fill the gap left by the closure of the Construction Industry Board. In its brief life it has made steady progress on integrating supply chains and project teams. Through most of its existence, the Strategic Forum has been driven by chairmen with clear views on the industry’s failings: first
Sir John Egan and second Peter Rogers. Shortly before he stepped down at the end of last year, Rogers instigated a review of the way the forum worked. This led to the creation of a slimmed-down organisation, split into two tiers, with a chairmanship that is to rotate on a yearly basis between three of the six member bodies: the Construction Industry Council, the Construction Products Association and the Construction Confederation. The rationale for this new structure is that it will force the forum’s members to take more ownership of it and reduce the petty disagreements that have dogged it.
Sir Michael Latham, who set up the Construction Industry Board, is sceptical of such a strategy (see page 33). He laments the fact that the chairman will be neither a senior client like Rogers nor drawn from the government. The upshot, he says, is that the forum will be just another lobby group. Other bodies, understandably, are also wondering whether their voice will be represented.
In one sense, it would be a miracle if there were no squabbling in an industry the size of ours, let alone one that required the industrial asbo that was the Egan report. And surely it’s unrealistic to expect one body to cure all construction’s ills. Even getting everyone around one table at the same time is no mean achievement – and a good reason to keep the forum alive. That said, Latham’s column begins a healthy debate. First, because we all need to be clear what forum’s for. Is it just there to drive best practice? Or should it act as the grand unified voice of Britain’s biggest industry, campaigning on really big problems, such as sclerotic planning and chaotic regulation?
Second, what about the question of leadership? It’s a fact of life that practitioners aren’t generally interested in the politics of their industry. But an effective interface between government and construction is essential, and one sure way of engaging innovative and visionary practitioners in the industry is to ensure that they are the helm of the forum. In Peter Rogers, who is now heading up the Olympics taskforce, we had the archetype of such a character. It’s essential that those stepping into his shoes earn the respect of the government and industry at large, and, as Latham says, keep the clients on board. Above all, they have to ensure that a year from now the answer to the question with which we began is a resounding YES.
Denise Chevin, editor