The time lapse between reports into the state of construction is quickening faster than Usain Bolt stretching his legs down the last 50 metres
“I hope that it will not be necessary to commission another report in ten years’ time”. So said Sir Michael Latham when he launched his proposals for improving the construction industry in ‘Constructing the Team’. When his report was published in 1994, the former Conservative MP was so confident that he had comprehensively and forensically exposed the industry’s ills and that implementing his recommendations would resolve them, that he believed it would remove the need for another such seminal report for at least a generation.
In that speech, Latham referenced the Banwell Report of 1964 as the forerunner to his own work. So, by his reckoning perhaps the next report would have become due in 2024. But, Latham’s confidence failed to take account of politics and shortly after John Prescott took over the relevant portfolio, Sir John Egan was wheeled out, not once, but twice for ‘Constructing Excellence’ (1999) and ‘Accelerating Change’ (2002). The latter came hot on the heels of ‘Modernising Construction’ by Sir John Bourn in 2001.
Latham’s report turned out to be the first of at least six reports into the state of the construction industry funded with public money over a 19-year period
Each of the two chief construction advisers has found their tenures dominated by similar reviews. Firstly, Lord Mandelson commissioned Paul Morrell to carry out an Innovation and Growth Review. Speaking to the Strategic Forum for Construction, early in 2010, Mandelson said that the Review would “open a window” to show what would be required for construction to grow and thrive by 2025. The coalition carried on this work and the IGT report was published in 2011, but no sooner had Peter Hansford taken over the CCA role than he landed a report of his own to deliver in the shape of this summer’s Industrial Strategy, which, ironically, also focuses its ambitious intent on the construction industry in 2025.
So, Latham’s report turned out to be the first of at least six reports into the state of the construction industry funded with public money over a 19-year period. It works out at one every three years but with two in the last three years, the time lapse between reports is quickening faster than Usain Bolt stretching his legs down the last 50 metres.
Latham used a small industry advisory group to inform his work, so did Egan (both times) and Morrell. Hansford set up an advisory group with a similar name to the one chosen by Latham (only the 2013 model was five times bigger than the one in 1993/4). Moreover, each report led to the establishment of a “body”. Latham set up the Construction Industry Board which lasted just six years; Egan set up firstly Constructing Excellence and then the Strategic Forum for Construction; the IGT Review set up the Green Construction Board; and the Industrial Strategy has spawned the Construction Leadership Council plus a Delivery Group. The CIB, the SFfC and the GCB all had similar “Sherpa” groups.
The recommendations in these various reports show distinct similarities although they range from the gargantuan (100+ recommendations in the IGT Review) to the purely aspirational, highly simplistic targets in the latest report. A lot has changed since ‘Constructing the Team’, much of it for the better (although self-imposed cancers like blacklisting and late payment continue to plague construction).
We hope that it will be a much better industry by 2025 but the only certainty is that there will have been at least another four major reports by the time we get there.
Graham Watts is chief executive and secretary of the Construction Industry Council