Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said: "For some time, it has looked like a bit of a showcase for John Prescott." Others in the industry expressed disappointment that the length of the 27 February meeting, at which about 700 delegates are expected, had been cut and questioned how much importance the government attached to it.
One industry member said: "It looks as if it will be a bit of a talking shop. Prescott has a slot and will then talk to the media. One wonders to what extent he is actually interested in our action plans." However, union members remain confident that Prescott is committed to making the summit work.
Electricians' union official Paul Corby said: "I won't criticise Prescott in any way. He has put health and safety at the very top of his agenda.
The great and good want to turn up and be seen. It’ll be a bit like the Oscars
"This seminar will inevitably cause a massive amount of excitement but I see it as a first step. It is daft to think that you can call a summit and expect the safety crisis to be solved." Another union source said it was the industry, not the government, that lacked commitment to the summit: "The great and good want to turn up, they want to be seen. It'll be a bit like the Oscars. They will all want to say wonderful things but the reality is that unless the culture changes, nothing can." The Health and Safety Executive, which is organising the conference, defended the government's position. A spokesman said it would be bizarre if the deputy prime minister was not committed to reducing deaths.
He said: "We could have just asked people to devise action plans, but the seminar is an opportunity for people to exchange ideas.