In his first speech about the industry as prime minister, Blair revealed that he has ordered Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam and Treasury chief secretary Andrew Smith to find ways to “improve the quality and design of public sector buildings and to modernise the procurement process”. Blair’s four-minute address was recorded in support of the 2000 Building Awards, and was due to be broadcast to an audience of 1300 industry leaders at Tuesday’s dinner.
In the most impassioned part of his speech, Blair harked back to the beginning of the last century when schools and town halls were built that the community was proud of. He added: “I would like to return to that sense of civic pride when we construct our public buildings.”
Linking the quality of buildings to the services they provided, Blair said: “Children learn better in schools that are well-designed. Patients can be treated better – indeed recover more quickly – in hospitals that have been built to the highest standards. Better designed public spaces can contribute to the fight against crime, and good quality social housing is vital to meet the needs and aspirations of individuals and their families in the 21st century.”
Blair added that he and deputy prime minister John Prescott were delighted by the progress of the Egan revolution but chided small firms resistant to change.
The UK has some of the world’s most-respected architects, contractors, suppliers and material firms
He said: “So far, it’s been mainly the larger firms that have got involved in Rethinking Construction initiatives. We want all firms, large and small, to seize the opportunities.” In response to those who thought that Egan was a fad, Blair warned: “We have to recognise that continuous change will always be part of our culture.”
The prime minister encouraged the industry to embrace e-commerce, “to use this knowledge economy to refresh and revitalise the work that you do”. He added: “It’s going to be an indivisible part of the way that all businesses work.” Blair also addressed a criticism that industry leaders have made privately – that he has failed to acknowledge the contribution that construction makes to the economy.
Blair said the UK had “some of the world’s most-respected and best-known architects, world-class contractors, suppliers and material manufacturers”. He said it was right that the construction industry “should have its own Oscar ceremony [the Building Awards] to recognise the people that are doing so much to improve the way they work and to make better products”.