Wilson moves to quell industry fears over fragmentation and government's demotion of construction.
New energy and industry minister Brian Wilson moved to quell industry fears over the future of construction reforms this week in the wake of a departmental shake-up in Whitehall.

Wilson, whose brief will include construction after the sector's move to the DTI from the DETR, said his first priority was to ensure the future of construction's strategic forum.

He said: "As a priority I shall be talking to Sir John Egan [the forum's chairman] about setting up the machinery he needs to fulfil the remit involved.

"There is general agreement that the industry needs a strategic body to take over from the Construction Industry Board."

Wilson said that the discussions would include the safety taskforce, which Egan has also agreed to chair. Concern has been raised about its future as safety would remain a responsibility of the slimmed-down DETR and so outside Wilson's brief.

Wilson added that it was particularly important that the DTI followed through on the commitments made at February's Construction Safety Summit.

Wilson praised the industry's recent development in the wake of Egan's 1998 report, Rethinking Construction. He said: "I welcome the innovation and new thinking that has been going on and I look forward to getting involved in pushing that process further forward."

Wilson's response follows concern raised by the industry over the future of other initiatives, such as the Movement for Innovation and the quality mark scheme.

The Whitehall rethink came under fire from industry commentator Sir Michael Latham, who described it as a "complete dog's breakfast". He said: "Contractors are going to ask, 'Who is going to drive forward the Egan agenda? Who in the DTI will care about the Egan initiative?'"

It’s a complete dog’s breakfast. Who will drive the Egan agenda?

Sir Michael Latham

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts said the move could make initiatives such as the M4I and Construction Best Practice Programme vulnerable.

He said: "It is vital that there is a strong construction directorate in the DTI that can carry on with what the DETR has been doing."

Watts said the move would create fragmentation in the way the government dealt with the industry.

He said: "I fail to see how anyone could see a positive spin from this. One of the things that really concerns me is that the whole emphasis of the M4I has been a holistic view of the industry, bringing together safety, best practice and procurement. With this, you have fragmentation over the way the industry is dealt with."

Construction Confederation chief executive Stephen Ratcliffe agreed, saying: "Our main concern is that we will have less ministerial time and the fact that it's all so fragmented."

A DTI spokesperson denied that construction had been demoted in the Whitehall pecking order.

She said: "Brian Wilson will be the minister responsible for construction. I do not think it's fair to say there is not a construction minister."

The shake-up of construction in Whitehall

  • Industry sponsorship moves to the DTI
  • Treasury to investigate government contracts
  • Falconer leads planning overhaul
  • The man you must know

    Former journalist Brian Wilson, 52, MP for Cunninghame North, started his ministerial career in the Scottish Office as minister of state for education and industry after Labour won the election in 1997. He then became minister of trade at the Department of Trade and Industry in July 1998 before spending six months as deputy secretary of state for Scotland in July 1999. Wilson was minister for foreign and commonwealth affairs at the beginning of the year before taking up this new post of industry and energy minister.