Mark Prisk’s pledge to overhaul the regs has shed some light on the Tory agenda
For a party that has steadfastly refused to detail any of its policies, the Tories have made some questionable decisions over recent months – that “artistic” green logo included. But one move that is beginning to look promising is the appointment of Mark Prisk as shadow minister for business and enterprise.
Prisk, who sent a ripple round the construction industry last week by proposing a “root and branch” overhaul of the Building Regulations, is winning the sector’s attention for a simple reason: he has a demonstrable interest in it.
The 44-year-old MP for Hertford and Stortford is a qualified chartered surveyor, and on entering parliament had 10 years’ experience in the industry as a self-employed businessman and company director.
His background made Prisk ask that construction be included in his remit as a shadow minister – and is one reason why he wants stronger representation for the industry in government, perhaps even with a dedicated minister.
Prisk feels that Margaret Hodge’s current remit, covering industry and the regions, does not offer enough opportunity to focus on individual sectors. “Shadowing Margaret Hodge’s vast range of responsibilities has highlighted how easy it is to skate over the top of issues, which is dangerous,” says Prisk.
He is in talks with Alan Duncan over structuring a potential Tory government around industries. Predictably, Prisk will not give an “absolute commitment” to a dedicated minister, saying only that “Whitehall needs a far better understanding of the construction industry”.
Whitehall needs a far better understanding of the construction industry
To foster this, Prisk is meeting trade associations and key industry professionals, recently joining a Tory-convened summit on the 2012 Olympics attended by the Construction Products Association, the Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association and the Construction Confederation.
Prisk says he is fully behind the Olympic Delivery Authority’s work to date – “we want this to succeed, not least because we could inherit it”. But he is anxious to discuss industry concerns over the current government’s handling of the construction programme. “Some say there hasn’t been enough leadership from government. I think that’s a legitimate point.”
This lack of leadership is a flaw in the government’s handling of construction procurement generally, Prisk feels. “We need a stronger common approach to procurement across government, and we need to think about a better sharing of risk. There is a tendency for the client to push risk onto the contractor, but a good client takes risk on board.”
Prisk says the Tories are looking at improvements to the PFI process to address “cost and time concerns” within the system.
Construction Confederation chief executive Stephen Ratcliffe, who attended the Olympics summit, is one figure impressed by Prisk. “Clearly, his background means he understands our issues, and like the Tory party generally he is making an effort to engage with the industry.”
But Ratcliffe is keen to see what happens. “He’s very much in listening mode at the moment. It would be helpful if he, and the party, could tell us precisely where they stand on our concerns … But he’s certainly made the right start.”