New construction minister admits that government has some room for improvement as a client

Margaret Hodge, the DTI minister with reponsibility for construction, has acknowledged that the government could improve its performance as a major client and said it needed to raise its minimum standards.

Hodge chose Building's annual reception at the House of Commons' Thames-side terrace on Monday to make her first major speech as construction minister. She said the industry was "crucial to the UK economy" and said it could provide

"macro-economic stability" but she added that the government had to use its power as a major client more effectively.

She said: "Can we get better? Should there be better minimum standards and integration of processes? What about the sustainability of our buildings? It is difficult to be an effective client because we're so disparate - but we're getting better."

More than 200 guests attended the reception, which marked the 30th anniversary of the all-party parliamentary study group for construction, which was the joint hosts of the event. The party was also a chance to showcase the first issue of the redesigned magazine as well as celebrate the launch of the Building Hall of Fame.

Senior industry figures and politicians gathered at the terrace pavilion in the House of Commons, included Building columnist Ed Balls and Keith Miller, chief executive of the Miller Group.

Bill Olner, the MP for Nuneaton, and sponsor of the event, opened the evening by pointing out that buildings had changed beyond recognition over the past 30 years. The vagaries of the planning system remained the same, he observed.

Hodge then addressed the guests, saying she was pleased with her new role but understood that industry must be tired of constantly changing ministers. She said: "I'm very excited to be here but you must be fed up of seeing new faces each year. I'm pleased as it takes me back to my roots." In her days at Islington council in north London she was the chair of the housing committee.

Hodge, who was appointed as construction minister in May after Alun Michael was sacked in the government reshuffle, also said the industry needed more women, especially since London won the Olympics.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council and chair of the judging panel for Building's newly-launched Hall of Fame, rounded off the evening by offering an insight into the judging process that selected 40 luminaries to be celebrated in a permanent exhibition at the Building Centre.