First person Materials producers have a new body to speak for them that promises to have real political and industrial clout.
Three days before this issue of building was published, the Construction Products Association was launched at a major function in London. This column is, necessarily, written just before the event, but the hope was that construction minister Nicholas Raynsford would be the guest speaker, along with the president of the association, and I would play a supporting role. Unfortunately, the minister has been unwell recently. I hope that he listened to his doctor and subcontracted his speech to a DETR colleague. He has always been most accessible to the industry, but he must put his health first.

I hope he will also now drop out of backing Frank Dobson’s attempt to become London’s mayor. If Labour really wanted to elect the right mayor, they should either have chosen Raynsford himself last October – he would have had my vote on polling day – or else they should now go ahead and pick Ken Livingstone. “Red Ken” would probably make a complete mess of the job, but he is a folk hero among Londoners and would win in a landslide if he grabbed the nomination, despite all Number 10’s best efforts. Dobson neither looks nor sounds the part, and never wanted the job anyway. If the Tories cannot beat him, they are as useless as Labour’s spin doctors say they are.

However, the Construction Products Association is not particularly concerned with London’s mayor. This launch is an important initiative, put together by the chief executive Michael Ankers, who took over from the vastly experienced and greatly respected Nigel Chaldecott just over a year ago. Chaldecott had led the Building Material Producers for many years. When I was in the House of Commons from 1974 to 1992, the BMP was one of the most effective lobbying organisations relating to construction. The newsletter that it sent to MPs was short, to the point and contained useful statistical information. It also appeared regularly, so that MPs interested in construction were kept in touch throughout the year, not just when some problem arose. Materials factories or quarries used to keep in touch with their local MPs during the year. I had several in my constituency and made periodic visits to be briefed by them on workload and environmental issues.

During the course of my review of the construction industry in 1993-94, which led to Constructing the Team, the BMP took a polite interest in the work but was little involved. Its leaders felt that issues such as contractual abuse or the need for performance improvement were really matters for contractors or consultants, and did not affect their constituency directly.

The Construction Products Association will speak for a massive economic force, in construction and in the national economy

The report reflected this. It makes little reference to the materials and extractive sector, although it did pose the question – which had been put to me by main contractors – as to whether there should be changes in the law relating to suppliers’ liability so as to restrict the ability of manufacturers to use exclusion clauses. I made no recommendation in that regard as the issue had not been sufficiently examined, but I felt that it could be discussed further by the Review Implementation Forum set up to carry the report forward.

After that, the BMP became increasingly interested in the review work. It had previously been loosely involved in industry representation through membership of the umbrella group, the Construction Industry Employers Council, along with the main contractors federations. That was not its natural home. Shortly after the report was published, it left the CIEC and entered into discussions with other manufacturing groups related to construction. That led to the formation of the Alliance of Construction Product Suppliers, which was initially a co-ordinating structure to provide separate representation for the materials and components sector on the Construction Industry Board, which the ACPS joined as a full member in 1996.

The BMP and the ACPS continued as separate organisations, but Nigel Chaldecott headed both of them. On his retirement, Michael Ankers was given the task of bringing the two bodies together into a single, effective organisation, representing the 40% of overall construction output for which the construction products sector is responsible. Since many of the companies involved are increasingly international in their outlook and foreign in their ownership, that cannot have been an easy job.