It’s been a devil of a week on the playing fields. The English cricket team was whitewashed by Sri Lanka, all the Brits crashed out of Wimbledon and the football team … well let’s not go there.
Then, to bring it back to construction, we’ve had another episode in the Wembley farce. Thank goodness, then, there’s the prospect of the London Olympics to lift the spirits, both as a sporting event and a chance to show what a great constructing nation we are.
A year after we won the Games this optimism is still alive, despite the fact that the programme is eight months behind its original schedule and it’s possible to count the contracts let on one hand. This confidence is justified because David Higgins, the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority,
is thinking first and acting second. He has redefined the role of the delivery partner, rejigged the masterplan to simplify the site, assembled much of his management team and is poised to make a series of announcements on strategy. There’s still a question mark over who will make up a £2bn shortfall in funding, but we can have faith that Higgins knows exactly what he is doing and is pacing the project to the finishing line.
There is a bonus for construction on top of all that extra work: the ODA has signed up to six commitments that define best practice on, among other things, sustainability, client leadership and health and safety. The intention is to apply them to the firms working on the Olympics, which would be a fine achievement; it is also hoped that they will become the Games’ legacy to the construction industry, which would be a historic one. The government, in the form of Margaret Hodge and Tessa Jowell, has backed the plans, which raises the prospect that they could become the norm for government projects.
But what of the wider industry? In truth many of the objectives contained in the plan are uncontentious. Few people would argue that “a strategy to deal with occupational health” is unnecessary or that we don’t need “development plans that will seek to enhance, create and protect the local environment”. It gets rather closer to the bone when it talks about money, above all fair payment regimes and project bank accounts. Last week we reported that Carillion makes its suppliers wait 65 days between payment request and payment, a policy that it says is followed by many of its rivals. If it is forced to switch to a 30-day period we will know that this document really does have the clout to change the industry.
Denise Chevin, editor