I read Sir Michael Latham’s article on the chief construction officer (CCO) with great interest (6 March, page 34). Also the BERR consultation document – which is better than Sir Michael allows given the shortage of straw for these particular bricks
There are two basic problems with the CCO concept. First, bureaucratic arrangements can facilitate policy delivery but will not of themselves cause it. Second, there is no obvious home within Whitehall for the post if it is to have any meaning (I exclude the idea of a senior person with a secretary; all that they can do is write a report, which however insightful – as Sir Michael’s was – cannot of itself deliver results). The truth is that there are several roles here that do not necessarily co-locate. Sponsorship of the industry, its regulation, and its public sector implications, are very different animals.
I dismiss the Treasury or Office of Government Commerce as a home for the CCO. Put simply, no sensible chief executive gives policy responsibility to the finance director. I also dismiss as fanciful the idea of the prime minister and chancellor involving themselves in the day-to-day business of construction. They have better things to do.
You do not need to be a permanent secretary to make a policy difference. You do however need political direction and support. Between 1992 and 2001 the Latham and Egan reports were written and implemented. The Movement for Innovation and Achieving Excellence were set up. The big difference from today was that there was strong and respected (by government and industry) ministerial leadership through Tony Baldry, the late Robert Jones and Nick Raynsford, all with clear though implicit support from their departmental heads and the Treasury chief secretary.
My response to the consultation document is to ask the writers to sort out their political arrangements and policy requirements and then let officialdom flow from that.
John Hobson, policy analyst and former construction director at the DTI/DETR