Its birth was complex, but broadly speaking it was the successor organisation to the Construction Industry Board (1995-2001); this was the body set up to implement Constructing the Team, my 1994 report. The CIB did good work in its six-year life, but by the end, it was clear that the Clients Forum (which was then in internal turmoil) did not wish to support it any longer. The government also wanted a structure that would concentrate on implementing the 1998 Egan report, Rethinking Construction.
At one stage, just before the 2001 general election, it looked as if the CIB would be scrapped and no replacement created. Nick Raynsford, the then construction minister, was so concerned about this prospect that he buttonholed me before an industry dinner. I advised him that a new body was essential and that it must involve clients – an umbrella forum without them would be a waste of space, as it would be merely the industry talking to itself.
Raynsford skillfully organised the setting up of the strategic forum in the summer of 2001, by which time Egan had agreed to chair it, and the Confederation of Construction Clients had been formed. The new body had a similar membership to the CIB, although with some extra members. It worked hard for a year and published Accelerating Change in September 2002, after which Egan left to become president of the CBI and, strictly speaking, the forum came to an end.
In practice, it has continued in a new format, and has met twice. Peter Rogers of Stanhope is chairman and the membership is similar – but not identical – to the previous forum. There are significant differences. The body meets at Stanhope's headquarters, not at the DTI, and there is a general consensus that it should not be seen as a government body. It is now up to the forum's participating organisations to pay for it and, in particular, to provide a full-time staffer as back-up to the chairman and to help to drive the process of reform.
Nick Raynsford was so concerned about the demise of the CIB he buttonholed me before an industry dinner
The forum itself is a strategic body, not an implementation mechanism. It has set itself five key themes. These are improving site conditions, planning for success through integrated teams, differentiating which key performance indicators are most relevant for clients, developing education, training and skills, and improving the value of the product.
Speaking personally, I would concentrate on three themes. My first choice would be to get over to as many clients as possible that they should choose their supply-side team on the basis of best value, not lowest price. There is still everything to do in that regard, let alone setting up integrated teams. The second and equal priority would be to attract capable young people – and those not so young – into the industry, both through university courses and direct craft entry, and to upskill the existing workforce. The third would be to increase good quality research on industry best practice and to fund it properly.
The forum itself has 10 members and three government observers, but its main delivery mechanism is the implementation group, consisting of 25 representatives of relevant organisations. It is unlikely that they will meet regularly, if at all, as a body, but rather will act as an information and dissemination network of best practice.
I attended the first two meetings of the forum and found them constructive and well focused. Peter Rogers is a major client who has immense experience of the industry, and is widely liked and respected for his professional expertise. He will be a formidable and effective chairman.