Construction minister Griffiths begins tenure with attack on David Steel – and a promise to champion industry.
Newly appointed construction minister Nigel Griffiths has been quick to make his mark, attacking the Scottish parliament’s former presiding officer, David Steel, over his handling of the procurement of the £375m parliament building.

In his first interview with Building, Griffiths, the MP for Edinburgh South, who took over from Brian Wilson two weeks ago, described Steel’s handling of the construction process as “naive”.

The project, which has become a national scandal, was hit last week by fresh allegations of design changes and cost overruns. The project has nearly trebled in size since the original tender, and the price has increased tenfold.

Griffiths, himself a Scot, said that he had been shocked to read an interview with the project manager for the parliament, who resigned in 1998 out of frustration with the incessant changes in specifications and spiralling costs.

Griffiths said: “The project manager’s interview made chilling reading. As the speaker for the house and as chairman of the essential committee overseeing the project, David Steel has been naive in his handling of the construction process – as once you go to tender, you are stuck with it.”

Griffiths played down fears that the construction industry had been demoted in the Whitehall pecking order – his predecessor was a minister of state, whereas he is an undersecretary.

Griffiths said that he had experience of the industry and

had been acting as “unofficial ambassador” for the industry by meeting construction and manufacturing firms. He said: “I am determined to champion the industry and to make a major contribution to help deliver world class public services by helping the people that are building them.”

Griffiths said he was keen to bridge the gap between his construction portfolio and other government departments that have strong links with the industry.

He said he had strong links with the Treasury and had worked closely with schools minister Ivan Lewis in the Department for Education and Skills. He said: “Don’t worry, I’m a very good networker.”

Griffiths also told Building he was committed to helping the industry improve the skills of its workforce.

“I know Ivan Lewis well and know

he has a big budget so it is an area

I think can be developed,” he said.

“I don’t want to get to a situation where the government has to force the industry to train people.”

He added that he was also committed to using skilled labour from abroad to help bridge the industry’s skills gap.

Griffiths said that he had not yet been properly briefed on the quality mark scheme. However, he added that he had heard good things about construction trade body Be, which receives about £250,000 a year in DTI funding.

The minister has instructed his department to carry out an audit of how the funds for which he was responsible have been spent. He said: “I’m not afraid to make tough decisions if I feel that money can be better spent.”

Griffiths has had some hands-on construction experience: he oversaw the conversion of a property while working for a charity. He said: “I oversaw the project so I’m well aware of the snagging process in the construction process.”

He told Building that he had met officials from the Health and Safety Executive and was keen to promote safe working. He added that he had met Lord Foster, and had a “passion for buildings and architects”.

He added that he would hold introductory meetings with industry representatives, the first of which is a construction industry reception at the Lancaster Hall hotel in central London in two weeks’ time.

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