This year's British Council for Offices event was in Edinburgh, where attitudes were far more upbeat than you'd expect
Maybe it was Alistair Darling insisting the recession will be over by Christmas. Maybe it was the Edinburgh sunshine. Or maybe it was simply the chance to be out of the office and to swap stories with 500 people in the same boat?
Whatever it was, the mood among the construction and property folk at the British Council of Offices annual get together today was defiantly up beat. And nobody was letting a minor issue like the recession get in the way of having a good time. Of course, there was more than an element of putting on a brave face and grasping on to anything that might be the faint sign of a green shoots: the fit out market flickering into life or architects being called up by housebuilders for the first time in a year - there were plenty of smallish but at least positive takes on the market to uplift the spirits if not exactly fill the order books.
So for those who couldn't be here - here are five things you missed in the last 24hours:
Some good networking opportunitiesDespite numbers being 30% down on last year there was only one organisation missing from last year's line up. Consultants and contractors were out in force, but a decent spattering of major clients too. This included Land Securities (as you might expect, given the conference chair is its London head Mike Hussey), Argent and even Aldar from Abu Dhabi, keen to check out the new BCO Specification Guide being unveiled at the event. Aldar now builds to BCO specifications, Charlie Acworth, its head of commercial leasing told me.
Check out the BCO guide on our site. It recommends fewer frills and that offices should have a wider temperature range to waste less energy on air conditioning.
Robert Peston's potted history on how the banks got into this messSome of the financials still rather baffle me, but the gist of it reinforced yet again the crater of debt we're in. I particularly liked his quips about not being able to find a single women responsible for the mess - it was, he said, “men behaving badly” that accounted for the $3 trillion of losses for banks and financial institutions.
He also said it wasn't light touch regulation that failed - it was “bad regulation” full stop. The wrong regulation had created a compliance culture that had lulled organisations into a false sense of security. Because they had ticked the boxes, they assumed everything was OK - without standing back and asking the basic common sense questions - like how much risk was associated with this debt.
He echoed the sort of sentiments one hears quite regularly in the industry in terms of health and safety regulation. “People use regulation as an excuse for not thinking,” he said. “Heads of banks couldn't pass the grandma test, explaining in simple terms what they were doing. It was clear to me back me back in 2007 those running the show didn't seem to have a clue what the hell was going on in their banks”.
As a nation our national debt is 400% of GDP - just to put the scale of mess we're in into perspective. “We have got to pay this back” So his prognosis was the recovery will be slow and painful - no great surprise there - but that if you think we're badly off, then just look at developing parts of the world like Africa. Or closer to home, Germany where the fall in demand for German products abroad had caused their GDP to fall by 6% this year.
A call by Mike Harris, founder of online bank Egg and serial entrepreneur, for companies to innovateDuring a recession innovators win - and that innovation can be reliable and low risk. He said innovation is about harnessing existing and emerging technologies, not developing new ones. I think we said as much in a piece written by Tom Lane in Building recentl. Lots of food for thought though, for anyone thinking they'd just sit it out and wait for things to improve before changing their products or services.
The chance to look round Bennett's Associates new Informatics Forum for Edinburgh UniversityThis is a power house of robotics and computer science research. A stunning building - and not surprisingly the winner of several awards already - including a RIBA award, announced today. For a building that has to accommodate the needs of academics in the form of cellular offices it managed to be flooded with light and marries the local vernacular effortlessly with a clean and extremely elegant modern style. For a university building packed with more brain cells per square metre and so devoted to high tech research, it was ironic to see so many blackboards and white chalk in operation. Nice really.
Finally - EdinburghHadn't been here for a few years and had forgotten what a simply magical place it is. Lucky enough to have been invited to Mike Hussey's dinner up at the castle last night. Looking out onto the Firth of Forth as the sun went down - it was easy to put aside for a short while at least the gloom gripping construction, the economy and our wretched MPs.
Now to the last session and a flight back to Gatwick and reality, brimming with ideas.