It was not that long ago that Adam Turk was knocking on doors for the Tories. Now he says the construction products sector needs a change. But Labour is proving a tough nut to crack


Source: CPA

Adam Turk addressing the CPA’s Spring Lunch

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Adam Turk and I agree completely. As I take my seat in the Construction Products Association’s well-appointed Bloomsbury office space, I nod in firm concurrence as the organisation’s chair gives his verdict. “My best guess is October,” he declares as we discuss the likely date of this year’s general election. 

A week is a long time in politics. The phrase has become cliched for a reason and, needless to say, our confident mid-May verdict quickly fell victim to the vagaries of British politics. It is just the latest twist in what has been a turbulent few years for the construction products sector, with regulatory reform, huge supply chain shocks, runaway inflation and general economic malaise all contributing to the challenge. 

Turk, whose day job is chief executive of acoustic fire and thermal insulation firm Siderise, has only been CPA chair for a matter of weeks, but it is a role he has long coveted, and he comes across as a man who will greet the earlier than expected election as an opportunity rather than an encumbrance. “I’ve seen that role for many years and aspired to it,” he says. “I’m chuffed to bits to be honest to get the opportunity, particularly in an election year.” 

Turk has worked in construction materials for 34 years, starting off in a sales and marketing position before moving into commercial roles. His career has taken him through a number of big names in the industry, including British Gypsum, two stints at Polypipe, Jeld-Wen, Baxi and Siderise. Working across different parts of the sector has given him the privilege of a global view of construction products, he says, which has fostered a belief in the value of improved collaboration and engagement between firms. 

“I have sat on lots of different committees and boards – there has always been in my life a kind of [view that], if you want to do your job really well, you have got to look outside the four walls of your own company, get involved in the industry,” he says. “Give a bit, learn a bit, engage a bit – and then bring all that back into your day job”.

Several anecdotes that Turk tells me over an hour-and-change conversation demonstrate either the improvements reaped by construction and products executives getting on-site and seeing how their products are actually put to use by workers, or the problems caused when such engagement is absent. More than a decade ago, while working for Polypipe, he did extensive work on the London Olympics, supplying 95% of all plastic pipework for the Stratford site. 

 It’s the industry’s responsibility to ensure that information is made available in a way that it can be trusted 

He says the experience taught him the value of early engagement and not working in siloes. “[We had] subcontractors who’d been appointed by contractors contacting us the week before they were going to use a material they’ve never used before, saying, ‘what the hell is this stuff’?” 

Turk’s belief in the importance of manufacturers and sub-contractors getting on the same page with regards to product usage set him up well for the post-Grenfell world. He says the “highlight of his career” was when he was asked by the CPA to set up a working group to respond to Dame Judith Hackitt’s report.

Four subsequent years of work resulted in the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI), a voluntary code to raise standards in construction product information and ensure that product information is clear, accurate, accessible, up-to-date and unambiguous. 

“I think, if you read between the lines of chapter seven, what Judith is really saying is if everyone who worked on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower had known everything they should have known about the products they used, then they would not have used the products that they did,” he says.

“And, therefore, it’s the industry’s responsibility to ensure that information is made available in a way that it can be trusted.” 

The CPA’s priorities for the next government

Support for a policy framework promoting growth, innovation and performance, including:

  • Adoption of a modern industrial strategy
  • A resolution to outstanding Brexit issues
  • A skills strategy for manufacturing green, digital jobs of the future
  • Support for research and innovation in advanced manufacturing, as well as the digitalisation of construction
  • Support for the Code for Construction Product Information

Support the transition to a more sustainable built environment, including:

  • A strategy to deliver the infrastructure necessary for a secure, low-carbon energy supply
  • An embedding of the whole-life value of products in procurement
  • Utilisation of the expertise within product manufacturers on carbon reporting and measurement

Mission-oriented policy goals with consistent, long-term investment, including: 

  • An increase in housebuilding and support for first-time buyers
  • Delivery of a national retrofit strategy across the country
  • Greater support for planning departments
  • Levelling up through key national and regional infrastructure projects

His goal for the CCPI is to get the industry to a point where, if a specified product is changed during the construction process, the contractor will check that its replacement fully meets the intended requirements of the original product – and that it can do so easily.

“What’s most important is that you understand why the original products were specified and what performance they were specified for,” he says, noting a CPA survey which found less than half of respondents said the supply chain was consulted when there was a change in material. 

How close is the industry to achieving this? “If you’d asked me that question two years ago, I would have said light years away,” he says.

Today, he feels industry is making good progress but is not moving as quickly as it needs to. “There’s still a lack of real understanding of the necessity to this,” he says, blaming the fragmentation of the construction sector and adding: “I still talk to people who don’t understand the Building Safety Act properly.” 

Of Paul Morrell’s landmark review into product testing, he says he “absolutely believe[s] in what Paul has done” and says he was “absolutely right to push the agenda for better testing and more consideration around general safety requirements. I think we need more test capability and facilities in the UK”.

He criticises some firms for testing “the golden sample”, rather than pulling products off the line to test weekly, as he claims Siderise does. “What is the purpose of testing? It is to ensure that, when my product is installed, it will do what it’s supposed to do – not that I’ve got certificate that allows me to sell it,” he says. 


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Source: Conservative Party

Turk says rhetoric from politicians in recent years has not helped his sector thrive

While Turk takes seriously the responsibilities imposed on the sector after Grenfell, he feels product manufacturers have been unfairly talked down by politicians in the years since. “I want to put pride back into construction products,” he says. “I think we have had a hell of a time over the last few years, thanks to the actions of a few.”

A former Conservative party member, Turk says he has “tried really hard” to get Michael Gove – who used to be his constituency MP – to “start talking positively” about the industry. “I was out canvassing with him as a member of the party, but I can’t get him to take on board a different message.” 

Turk’s disappointment with the Conservative party, does not end there. He says the CPA’s relationship with civil servants is “excellent”, but that the relationship with ministers is “not really there” and criticises much of the policymaking of recent years. The abrupt decision to cancel HS2, he says, has been a disaster for parts of the products sector. 

>>See also: Building bridges: how Paul Morrell would fix our broken products testing system

>>See also: Long process: How compliance with the new products code will be verified

“I have got a factory in Ipswich that is the market leader in providing thermal linings for train carriages […] and we had geared up for HS2 on the basis that we were working with Alstom and Hitachi. And now, all of a sudden, the factory is shut and that work is going to go overseas,” he says.

“I think what happens is with these announcements they focus on the core people that are working – the one-on-one relationships – and what they lose is all of the supply chain that sits behind that.” 

He adds that the Conservatives’ lack of willingness to invest and develop a coherent industrial strategy has hampered innovation, particularly in sustainable technologies, giving the example of its approach to heat pumps, where he says the government has penalised boiler manufacturers rather than intervening actively to foster a domestic industry for the greener technology. “The industry generally responds well to good carrots, if it has confidence in those carrots,” he says.

Labour will probably engage better and give the industry a bit more time 

A proper industrial strategy, with investment in research and development – whether through tax credits or some other measure – is his first recommendation for the incoming administration, whoever leads it. Beyond that, he wants to see the government invest more in skills and apprenticeships and to set out a plan for decarbonising the housing stock. 

“The new government coming in, whether its the existing one or a new one, setting their stall out early doors and giving the industry confidence that they can stick to that agenda at least for their five-year term – that enables industry to invest because industry will invest if it believes that that work is going to be there at the other end.” 

He also backs Mark Robinson’s idea for a publicity campaign promoting construction as a career – “I’m a marketer at heart” – as well as Building’s call for the re-introduction of the chief construction advisor position.

“I was a massive fan of Paul Morrell when he was the government’s chief construction adviser, and I think we are missing that role,” he says. 

Turk says his “gut feel” as a Conservative voter is that Labour will “probably engage better, give the industry a bit more time and will probably provide a better platform for the construction industry”. He thinks the party “recognises the need to devise plans for infrastructure and housing”. 

However, his praise for the opposition is relatively faint. He is worried about the prospect of increasing taxation, despite the party’s assurances, and also has concerns about Labour’s New Deal for Workers.

He also complains that Labour has so far been pretty difficult for the industry to talk to. “As it stands at the moment, we have not had any kind of appropriate engagement from the Labour leadership – and we have tried,” he says, explaining that they have so far got no further than low-level written communications. 

With the big day fast approaching, it seems unlikely that Labour leaders will be finding much time for engagement with the likes of Turk before 4 July. But, if the polls do not shift before then, you can be sure that he and his colleagues will be banging at the door of a Keir Starmer No 10, urgently demanding to have their say.

Election focus 

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With the UK set for a general election on 4 July, the country is facing some serious problems.  

Low growth, flatlining productivity, question marks over net zero funding and capability, skills shortages and a worsening housing crisis all amount to a daunting in-tray for the next government.

This year’s general election therefore has very high stakes for the built environment and the economy as a whole. For this reason,

Building’s election coverage aims to help the industry understand the issues and amplify construction’s voice so that the parties hears it loud and clear.