Next week, the industry has the opportunity to boost its public image. With a barrage of events planned for National Construction Week, will the event be more of a hit this year than last?
What a year it has been for the image of the construction industry. Television documentaries such as Raising the Roof and Cutting Edge have exposed cowboy builders, the national press has followed the Jubilee Line Extension and Royal Opera House sagas, and even the Daily Star has raged against the cost of Portcullis House, the £250m MPs’ office under construction in Westminster.

But it is not only the public that is disillusioned. Clients have had enough of late and over-budget buildings, so they have thrown their weight behind Sir John Egan’s Rethinking Construction report. Improve or else is their message, loud and clear.

Now the industry is fighting back. The second National Construction Week kicks off on Monday. This week of events, which comes, oddly, 18 months after the inaugural week, is aimed at showing the public and clients that the construction industry is not so bad. And it will aim to convince children that a career in the industry can be exciting.

The industry hopes that this year’s events will have more impact than the first National Construction Week. The first attempt was largely ignored by the national media, unlike, say, National Science Week, which reaps pages of national coverage every summer.

To help kick-start this one, the organisers have enlisted the help of construction minister Nick Raynsford. On Monday, at the site of London’s Millennium Bridge in the City, Raynsford will launch a report which shows that construction clients are starting to recognise improvements made by contractors.

The report, Improving the Performance of the Construction Industry, shows that clients’ satisfaction levels with main contractors have risen 16% since 1995. In 1995, a survey of client satisfaction carried out by the British Property Federation produced an average score of 6.21 out of 10. In 1997, the BPF recorded a score of 6.73, and this year, in a Construction Clients Forum survey carried out for the report, the satisfaction level had risen to 7.20.

Contractors were scored on ability to keep to quoted price and time, quality of work, defects resolution and trust. The biggest improvements were in the ability to keep to quoted price and defects resolution. The performance in both categories rose 25%. The worst score was in ability to keep to time, which has dipped 0.2% in the past two years.

The report found that clients are slightly happier with consultants’ performance. In 1995, their overall satisfaction was 6.61, rising to 7.27 in 1999. The score was based on design creativity, ability to innovate, speed and reliability of service, co-ordination between team members and value for money. Steady improvements were recorded in all categories, particularly design creativity and the ability to innovate.

Although the results show steady if unspectacular improvement, consultancy teams are failing to deliver on projects larger than £20m. In 1995, they scored 6.50; four years on, the score is down to 6.09.

The report’s publication on Monday will leave contractors and consultants feeling pleased with themselves, but the rest of the week may prove more difficult. Tuesday will see the launch of new environmental targets for the industry – a clear message that companies are not doing enough – and Wednesday looks at skills shortages and the lack of good graduates joining the industry.

As well as themed days, there are a number of eye-catching events. Top of the list is a schoolchildren’s visit to Doncaster’s Earth Centre organised by the New Millennium Experience Company on 20 April. The NMEC will launch a construction pack for children during the visit. In Scotland, Forth Valley Curriculum Centre has organised an event where teams will design and build a castle to repel attacks from enemy siege.

MPs are also backing the week. Treasury minister Barbara Roche is visiting Heathrow’s Construction Training Centre on Wednesday 21 April and, on the same day, shadow environment secretary Gillian Shepherd will endorse Roofsafe, a scheme for reputable roofing firms, at the House of Commons.

So, there is plenty to stimulate discussion within the industry and good events. But will it be enough to put the industry’s good points in the national spotlight, or will the public’s opinion be unaltered by next week’s efforts?

Five essential events for children …

20 April, Doncaster: The Earth Centre is hosting the launch of the New Millennium Experience Company’s construction pack for schools, and is offering tours of Yorkshire’s largest millennium project. Contact: Ann Baker, 0113-220 3103 20 April, Sedgefield: Tarmac has organised an environmental competition for pupils at Easington School. The winner will have the opportunity to work with an architect to design an “eco pond” that will be constructed in the school grounds. Tony Blair may visit the school, which is in his County Durham constituency, and use a JCB to break ground for the project. Contact: Nick Corbett, 0113-298 4379 21 April, Epsom: Contractor Try has arranged a site visit for four- to seven-year-old pupils of the new Epsom Downs Primary School. There will be a painting competition on the themes of “My new school” and “The building site”. The winning pictures will be framed and presented to the Surrey school. Contact: Fred Garner, 01622-871325 22 April, Glasgow: Secondary school pupils are being sought to design and create a model of a concept home or garden using the themes of National Construction Week (improved performance, environment, people innovation and the community). The winners will receive £100. Contact: George Maxwell, 0131-228 7537 23 April, Birmingham: Secondary school pupils will take part in a Lego building competition based on the theme “A millennium building for Birmingham”, organised by Laing Construction and the National Federation of Builders. Each school will spend time with an architect who will assist with the design of the structures. Contact: Martin Prince, 0121-722 8005

… for the public

19 April, Stepney, east London: Balfour Beatty has organised a two-day construction challenge. Teams will build their own flat-pack house, lay bricks, install sinks and fit locks. Contact: Tony Hewitt, 0171-377 2009 20 April, Stirling: Forth Valley Curriculum Centre has organised the Stirling Castle construction challenge. Teams must build a castle that can repel enemy attacks. Contact: John Smith, 01382-858586 21 April, Cardiff: An exhibition where visitors can gain hands-on experience of all aspects of the construction process and talk to employers. Contact: Steve John, 01443-663047 23 April, Newark: Hanson Brick is hosting a visit and presentation. Contact: Stephanie Turner, 0990-258 258 25 April, Edinburgh: The site of the private finance initiative Edinburgh Royal Infirmary opens its gates to the public. Contact: RW Anderson, 0131-621 7400

… and for clients

19 April, Glasgow: A breakfast briefing in collaboration with the Major Contractors Group is being held at the new John Lewis store. The briefing will be hosted by Laing area manager Anna Stewart and followed by a tour of the store. Contact: Ray Morley, 0141-332 7055 20 April, Leeds: Leeds Metropolitan University is hosting a transatlantic seminar on “Improving Performance in Housing”. The university will use a video conference link to discuss the topic with the Housing Institute in Boston. Contact: Terry Williams, 01943-466806 22 April, London: Inside UK Enterprise has organised a construction company visit to QS Bucknall Austin. The visit offers construction firms and clients the opportunity to see management practice in the industry. Various IUKE visits have been organised across London during the week. Contact: Catherine Hudson, 01730-235015 22 April, Birmingham: Jennie Price of the Major Contractor’s Group and Zara Lamont, director of the Construction Best Practice Programme, will be among the speakers at a conference entitled Rising to the Egan Challenge. Contact: the Construction Study Centre, 0121-434 3337 23 April, Newcastle: The Centre for Life is hosting a seminar for clients and consultants. A leading academic will speak on current design thinking in construction, with input from a project design team member. Contact: George Oldham, 0191-222 5623

Five themed days

Monday 19 April Improving Performance Construction minister Nick Raynsford will launch a report showing that clients’ overall satisfaction with main contractors and consultants is improving Tuesday 20 April Environment New environmental targets are due to be unveiled Wednesday 21 April People A report highlighting skills gaps and graduate recruitment problems will be published Thursday 22 April Innovation A report tackling what construction sites will be like in 2020 will be launched Friday 23 April The Community Contractors open up their sites to the public Further information on National Construction Week is available at the web site, or by telephoning 01242-577277