Building's 50 ways to improve the industry
It's 10 years since Sir Michael Latham began researching his landmark report into the sleeping arrangements of lions and lambs, and it's five years since Sir John Egan completed his ambitious plan to turn the construction industry into one giant outdoor car factory. As a result of these documents, the industry has taken some baby steps towards modernisation. But as we know, it is some way from truly constructing its teams or rethinking itself. So, Building decided it was time to draw up its own report – provisionally entitled The Project: A Blueprint for the New Jerusalem and hastily retitled Try This. We compiled it by luring a contractor, a QS, a construction manager, an architect, a trade contractor and a journalist to a restaurant, then locking them in a room filled with hidden microphones and as much wine as necessary. A team of cryptographers spent a week distilling the resulting babble into 50 ways to make our lives a bit easier. Some are rants, some are obvious, others are genius touched by madness – but whatever you think of them, we hope that they provoke you to take up the invitation at the end …

01 Get real on programming and pricing
Not every job is as bad as the £400m (and counting) Scottish parliament, but that project is an extreme example of fantasy pricing. If the real cost and programme had emerged earlier, the project would have attracted less stick. Realistic programming and pricing won't make you popular, but compare it with the alternative …

02 Bring back technology colleges
The government's policy of pushing school leavers into university has badly damaged the industry. It has exacerbated Britain's traditional weakness in technical education and choked off the supply of skilled craftsmen who are the backbone of every building site. And it's not as if the new undergraduates are reading subjects such as surveying or engineering; rather, degree level construction courses are faced with extinction. The government needs to offer the schoolchildren the option of well-resourced, dedicated technology colleges.

03 Bring in retention bonds
Retentions, whereby a percentage of a contractor's fees are held back after a job is handed over, are an embarrassment for the industry – and a constantly reiterated complaint among specialists. A bond system would infinitely preferable.

04 Step aside, Sir John Egan
It's not that your plans to integrate the industry weren't on the money, or that your report is no longer relevant … it's just that you've been around for a long time. Now that the government has asked you to rethink regeneration and planning, many are forming the opinion that this is one task too many. Isn't it time for fresh blood?

05 Beef up the Health and Safety Executive
How are concerns about health and safety – especially the rate of deaths on site – supposed to be addressed without a properly funded HSE? Its recent high-profile swoop on building sites across the country certainly showed that the executive has upped its game when it comes to targeting unsafe practices in our industry. Yet the lack of officers means its coverage of the country is far too limited.

06 More OBEs for bricklayers
We've seen supposedly "ordinary" trades such as lollipop ladies and cleaners being rewarded with royal honours. So why not the construction trades? It would underline the value to society of the skills needed on site. Architects, industry leaders and construction bosses usually dominate the honours list – why not celebrate the work done by the rest of the industry?

07 Introduce flexible housing design
The design of offices has improved significantly in the past decade – from labyrinths enclosed in Stalinist termite mounds to more flexible and democratic environments. But what about housing? There appears to be no scope to change the use of rooms or the overall layout of floors? The concept of space planning, commonly used in offices, should be introduced into the housing sector.

08 Build for a greener future
The industry is sleepwalking into climate change. Present buildings could well be unusable in hotter conditions and the common way of cooling them – air-conditioning – is a notorious energy-guzzler. The examples of new schemes that reduce energy consumption, such as Bill Dunster's BedZed housing scheme for the Peabody Trust, are few and far between. What we need are ecological entrepreneurs – they will make the market for the rest of the industry.

09 Embrace IT
The industry needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century as far as technology is concerned. It doesn't just make you look cool going to work with a laptop, but it makes your company more money. Using IT can offer much-improved business efficiency, as well as speed up work on site.

10 Scrap OJEC
The Official Journal of the European Communities was brought in to open up competition across Europe. Unsurprisingly, it has not encouraged a single Portuguese contractor to pitch for a flat roof job in Chorley. Architecture may be more open to international competition, but most work is carried out within national boundaries. The OJEC has made no difference to that, and merely adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the public sector procurement process.

11 Produce fewer drawings
Architects do a lot of unnecessary drawing. It's only when contractors, specialists and project managers come into play that the detailed design is fleshed out, so there's no need for a a full set of drawings at the design stage.

12 Liven up industry functions – and have more fun
We still rely on all those stuffy black-tie dinners to keep us entertained with ponderous speeches, "comedians", and souped up school dinners. Okay, they have their fans, but they're a turn off for people under 40 in general and women in particular. The industry has got rid of boxing night, so why not some of the annual dinners as well? Why not have more parties on sites?

13 Award good on-site performance
There are plenty of penalties for workers on site – especially in the case of safety breaches. And quite right, too. But what about proper benefits and rewards for workers who have performed well?

14 Ban email – it's good to talk
We might need more IT, but how much actual use is email? The members of our panel say only 10% of their emails were of any use. How much is time wasted on the other 90%?

15 Spread the health and safety message to the industry as a whole
The past two or three years we have seen a concerted safety push from the industry, but it has mainly been top–down. It's time to spread the message to the five-person outfits that make up the bulk of our industry. How many times have you seen workers on a house extension flagrantly breaching basic safety standards?

16 More advertising to raise profile
The CITB ads in the last couple of years seem to have made their mark, attracting school leavers to the industry. We need more of them, reaching an even wider audience if we are really going to attract the skills needed in coming years. What about a television campaign? With ex-construction worker Ricky Tomlinson?

17 Prove lowest value doesn't work
Some in the industry see competitive tendering as a necessary evil. The only way to really rid the sector of it is with hard facts. Studies have tried to prove that partnering makes business sense, but there has been nothing conclusive. Partnering should not cost more, but we need hard facts to stack it up.

18 Make foreign workers legitimate
We know we rely on them, especially in construction hotspots such as London. Many of are hard-working, skilled and flexible. Unfortunately, they may not be legal migrants and may not speak English or have the right qualifications. By making them legal, we can help ensure they are skilled workers and that they are properly paid and not exploited.

19 Keep standard contracts standard
New forms of contract introduced in recent years, such as PPC2000, EEC, the JCT major projects and the Be Collaborative contract, were supposed to make things much simpler. The trouble is, clients and their lawyers insist on making amendment in amendments that are often longer than the contract itself. What's the point of a standard contract if clients add unnecessary additions to them? How can they be standard if you keep changing them? Eh?

20 Stop comparing the construction industry to the car industry
Egan's mantra (see 04) works – but up to a point. Okay, it's true that the industry has a lot to learn about smart prefabrication, just-in-time production, right-first-time delivery and something called "after-sales service", but that's about it. A car is like a building in the same way that a giraffe is like a polar bear.

21 Keep construction macho
The industry clearly needs to attract different sectors of the population to meet its skills requirements – above all, women and people from ethnic minorities. However, the sector shouldn't ignore its core workforce on site, which remains young men. They are attracted to construction because there is the excitement and challenge of tough physical work. The danger is that by trying to attract other parts of the population through promoting a touchy-feely image for the sector, we could alienate a key part of the workforce.

22 Take pride in the job
Call us old fogeys but taking pride in your work seems to be a thing of the past. Whether it's a social trend or a lack of training, too many of the workforce do not seem to take pride in their work. They see completing a job merely as the amount of money they earn from it, rather than as a decent end product.

23 Go back to school
If you can't get them early, forget it. Until schoolchildren realise the scope of the industry – and the rewards – construction will be ignored by ambitious school leavers. Other professions, such as law, medicine and the media, have no such problems.

24 Give us more time to finish
Yup, it's the old programming problem again. You're always under pressure to complete a job. This inevitably leads to the end being hurried, which often means last-minute glitches or a botched job. Get real on completions.

25 Swap jobs for a day
A great way to see how the other side operates and feels. A bricklayer swapping jobs with an architect? A structural engineer with a client? Job swaps outside the industry could give everyone new perspectives and new skills.

26 Feel the fear – and make decisions anyway
The litigious nature of society seems to have hamstrung the whole industry. Making a decision seems to be that much more difficult these days, especially among clients (both private and public), where the bureaucracy and layers of management draw out the time it takes to make a choice. The rise of auditing and new corporate governance rules has exacerbated these fears.

27 A plasma screen on every site
A tad ambitious, but how about making sure that everyone walking onto a site sees a screen showing project information? If it was done right, everybody would know what was going on, and would be more likely to feel part of the process

28Crèches on site
Working conditions for women are dreadful and we need to radically rethink our approach to this if we hope to attract significant numbers of them into the industry, whether on site or in the professions. Too many sites still do not even have female toilets, let alone showers, changing rooms or welfare facilities.

29 No more industry groups / initiatives
If the industry is to make sustained strides forward and speak with one voice to government and the outside world, we need to lose the myriad trade bodies, forums, discussion groups and institutions. They have their own valid interests and are valued by their members, but their very diversity creates incoherence within the sector. Can we also put the brakes on new initiatives? The most common response to these is a loud and sustained round of yawning.

30 Set up integrated supply teams
This is the master concept of the Egan review. It envisages using partnering and collaborative IT to assemble the hundreds of specialisms involved in creating a building into one big virtual company. Unfortunately, there has not been enough interest from clients for this idea to become widespread. Nevertheless, the logic of the concept is undeniable: it creates successful and lasting relationships, the team learns from the last project and it offers a consistent product to a client.

31 Learn more from PFI
It remains politically controversial, but the benefits of PFI are real. One example: it smuggling whole-life costing into the procurement process. True, it may have some way to go in design terms, but having to build projects and then operate them for 30 years is bound to improve the longevity of buildings.

32 Make the client your champion
Projects need constant direction and a guiding hand from an interested and enthusiastic champion. Ideally, this should be someone from the client organisation. It doesn't necessarily have to be a construction expert – just someone who can come up with clear goals and ensure that they are met.

33 Don't walk away from a building
What level of after-construction sales service exists? Compared with the car industry, there seems to be little desire to check on how the building is working once a scheme is completed. Users need help with sophisticated M&E, FM and IT systems. And if the heating or the toilets don't work, the new users are not going to give a damn about all the flashy design bits you're so proud of.

34 Don't always say yes. And admit to faults
Everybody in the industry will at some time say yes when what they meant to say was no. Or they may well genuinely mean yes, until things start going pear-shaped. How can clients trust us if we aren't realistic? And if something does go wrong and it's clearly your fault, why not own up? The immediate answer is the fear of getting sued, but if risk is shared by the team, why not? If you own up, problems get solved more quickly.

35 Let's have a proper construction minister
Nigel Griffiths, the present incumbent, is trying his best, but let's face it, he's really the small business minister. In fact, we haven't had a proper minister since Nick Raynsford left in 2000. And with all the different construction-related remits scattered around government departments, it comes over as the opposite of joined up government. Unravelled government, more like.

36 Everyone's a client sometimes
We whinge about clients. But think about it: all of us – from contractors and QSs to architects and specialists – will be a client at some stage. We should therefore treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.

37 Improve behaviour on site
It's the usual clichés – wolf whistling, swearing, soft-porn calendars. Yes, the industry can be macho (see number 21) but that doesn't mean it should be sexist or abusive.

38 Lose the glass
It looks lovely on the Swiss Re, but does it have to be everywhere? Surely, we could use other cladding, such as stone or terracotta, a bit more. Let's learn from recent buildings, such as the new Selfridges in Birmingham and Ian Ritchie's Plymouth Theatre, which have imaginatively used different products.

39 Lemon marmalade on toast!
One of our panellists was particularly excited about a recent visit to a site. "It was great. We went for breakfast and they had lemon marmalade for my toast," he says. Decent grub is a must. Building is an energy-intensive game, so you need good fuel. So how about ginger preserves for elevenses?

40 Scrap Building's legal section
Although the case stories are entertaining, the mere existence of this section suggests that disputes are an acceptable part of the industry and that all schemes end up in dispute resolution. It underlines a culture of failure in construction.

41 Improve margins
How can the industry make working conditions superior, up training and improve the industry's image on rubbish margins? Profits of 1% or 2% are typical for contractors, but it gives no margin (sorry for the pun) for error. It often leads to the so-called softer side of the job (conditions, training, etc.) being left by the wayside at the expense of making such slim profits.

42 More curves in masterplans
Every masterplan you see seems to have blocks and straight lines. Why not have some curves? It would create some individuality in future schemes, rather than the same old grid. Some of the great cities have curved roads, such as Regent Street in London.

43 Improve safety statistics
We rely on accident statistics as pretty much our sum knowledge of safety on site. This is not enough. What about a more regional breakdown of accidents? What is the contract size on every major incident? Did it happen as materials were being delivered on site? More knowledge on how, where and why is essential.

44 Scrap the quality mark. Bring in legislation
The government's quality mark has limped along since its launch two years ago, only signing up 500 firms. A voluntary system just doesn't work – legislation forcing companies to adhere to basic standards is the only way.

45 More feedback forums
To learn lessons after a scheme's completion, a feedback forum addresses what went wrong and what went well. These should be compulsory after every project.

46 Design from inside out rather than outside in
The old complaint about architects who concentrate on the look of the outside of a building at the expense of the view from inside. What's the point of fancy cladding and sexy curves when a huge stairway is blocking your view?

47 Reinvent the QS
The traditional bill of quantities still exists for a large swath of the industry. Surely, it's time for that to change and for QSs to completely reinvent themselves. After all, technology is increasingly gnawing away at the traditional role . Peter Rogers has complained about the lack of good project managers in the industry. So, why not turn QSs fully into project managers?

48 Scrap detailed planning permission
Surely, there is a better and speedier way of getting planning permission. There have been well publicised suggestions, such as a wealth tax on profits of schemes instead of section 106 agreement. Why not use a US model of planning, where an overall plan is drawn up for an area with detailed design and use guidelines for particular sites? This would eradicate the need for detailed planning.

49 Site managers should stop looking like businessmen
What's the point of site managers dressing up in a suit on dirty sites. It's their job to look after a project, not sit behind a computer in an office.

50 Less talk, more action
The industry has spent 10 years navel-gazing. It's certainly been a useful exercise, but maybe it's time to move on, learn from the advice and use it in practice for a while. A time to take stock and find out whether the new ways of working are really up to it. Do we really need to trawl through another report? Why not just read our eight-page offering and move on?

Our trusty cross-section of the industry who compiled the list includes:

John Homer
Galliford Try

Mark Way
executive director
Currie & Brown

Tony Giddings

Mike Wood
research director

Luke Wessely
managing director
Allan Roofing

Steve Pycroft
chief operating officer