He may not be the high-profile champion that the industry craved, but the appointment of Alun Michael to preside over construction is better news than many had expected.
As a former cabinet minister and now a minister of state, the MP for Cardiff South and Penarth is a political heavyweight who knows his way around Whitehall. And crucially, he is a rung further up the ladder than his predecessor and therefore much closer to the seat of power.
The catch is that Michael has 48 other industries to watch over – only biodiversity and chemicals fall outside his remit – and even the most enthusiastic of ministers has only 24 hours in the day, so construction’s time will inevitably be squeezed in his diary. And although the expected priorities of his boss, Alan Johnson, in sorting out energy and productivity, may promote construction up the political agenda, there is clearly a serious challenge ahead for our industry if it is to get his attention on the things that matter.
Nick Raynsford, the former construction minister, whom we welcome back to these pages to resume his column, says Michael is helpful and approachable (see page 15). But if he’s to sort out the problems of the PFI and payment clauses and turn the tide on burdensome regulation, it’s up to construction’s lobbyists to set his agenda for him. Michael had a rough time in his last post at rural affairs, so a more civilised debate will appeal to him. But the energy and focus of the foxhunting brigade – if not their tactics – will be necessary if construction is to make real political progress.
Denise Chevin, editor
The right approach to manslaughter
How should companies be punished when management failure results in death? It’s a question the industry has been asking itself for years, without ever finding a satisfactory answer. It has come to the fore this week with the government’s renewed pledge to bring in corporate manslaughter legislation (see pages 14-15). The law will be based on a draft bill published in March, which is currently out for consultation. Despite being such a controversial subject, the bill has been widely welcomed by the industry because it should make it easier to prosecute companies and hit them where it hurts – their bottom line.
Employers, particularly, are behind it because it does not seek to jail company directors. The government is certainly right to steer clear of incarceration, which the unions were pressing for with their private member’s bill last year. This would have deterred passionate and talented managers from taking responsibility for safety. Yet there are still lawyers who say the bill is a waste of time. They claim that legislative powers are already in place to thump firms with punitive fines, and this is a stunt to keep the unions happy. That’s as may be. Nevertheless, in a sector that kills 70 people a year, and where fines average £7000 for a site death, harsher sanctions may just be the added incentive some bosses need to get their house in order.