In 1898, my great-grandfather decided that George & Harding should be one of the founder members of the Bournemouth & Christchurch Master Builders’ Association. We don’t know the specific reasons for forming the association, but we do know that builders were already suffering at the hands of the consultants and clients of the bespoke contracts of the time, and that local plasterers had recently gone on strike for an iniquitous one farthing an hour.
The evidence shows that George & Harding was a self-reliant, innovative, liberal, Free Church, philanthropic, model Victorian company. So, why join together with other (probably less enlightened) enterprises to set up a trade association? Because the same overwhelming pressures of change as we have today also existed at the turn of the 19th century.
Electricity, plumbing, heating, steel frames and beams (and much more) were appearing and the rapid growth of independent supervising consultants had introduced the fragmentation and adversarialism from which we are still trying to extricate ourselves, 100 years later.
From the start, George & Harding actively supported and contributed to the association, and to its successors, including the Construction Confederation and its “Bob the Builder” subsidiary, the National Federation of Builders. Support turned to disinterest and later to resistance from our new generation of managers, who can’t see any benefit of membership. So, after 102 years, we have given notice that we intend to leave the confederation on 31 December 2000. This is not for the usual parochial reasons of pique and personality. It’s a purely commercial business decision. We need a trade association that pursues policies that promote and develop the interests of our type of company.
Since the formation of the Construction Confederation, the few policies that it has followed have been aimed specifically against our interests:
- The promotion of (and recent half-hearted opposition to) the Construction Industry Tax Scheme
- The development with government of the private finance initiative and prime contracting as major contractors’ monopolies
Why not merge and give everyone involved in the industry the support we need to reintegrate
- Similar encouragement of government to drive smaller companies out of the public sector through the “rationalisation of the supply chain”
- Most seriously, being at the forefront of opposition to the involvement of clients in our industry bodies. Witness the recent unseemly wrangles over the number of seats the clients could have on the new Construction Industry Board, resulting in an emasculated and fatally wounded “new body”.
What an amazing industry we are, when our best clients have to band together to force us to modernise and improve our service – and our trade associations resent the “interference” and try to sabotage the reforms. Surely, it must be clear to everyone by now that as the construction management process integrates, the industry’s 153 associations and institutions need to integrate and modernise as well.
We have no desire to see the NFB break away because it would weaken the confederation even more. We need a much more equitable power-sharing arrangement between the major companies, the national contractors and the small and medium-sized businesses, across all sectors, that will re-integrate the confederation rather than further compartmentalise and fragment it.
It must speak with one voice, on behalf of all its members and not just the restrictive and selfish interests of the major contractors which are then passed off as the “industry view”.
For the 21st century, George & Harding wants to be part of an integrated construction support unit that merges the interests (and in the spirit of partnering, they can be merged) of constructors and their workforce, clients, consultants, suppliers, specialists and government. Which is exactly what the CIB was originally set up to be, and could be still, if only we could dump those seeking to wreck it, merge all the quangos into it and give it some additional real responsibilities such as the Construction Industry Training Board, modern contracts, integration and best practice.
We should not forget that all the professional institutions started life as trade associations. Indeed, some of them still are, so why not merge and give everyone involved in the industry the support we need to successfully manage the reintegration of construction in 2001?
Colin Harding is chairman of Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding.