Adviser post should be made permanent
Written by Brigitte Faubert   
Tuesday, 10 May 2011 11:43

HVCA chief executive Robert Higgs OBE has called for the post of Chief Construction Adviser to be made permanent.Current incumbent Paul Morrell is due to stand down this November, but Mr Higgs believes there is still much more work to be done

He told a recent meeting of the industry debating group the Rumford Club that Mr Morrell had “made a difference in opening a meaningful dialogue between industry and government – enabling them to better understand each other” – and, in his judgment, any perception that Morrell had failed to “live up to expectations”, was caused by the restrictions around the job itself rather than in the performance of the individual.

However, Mr Higgs believes the adviser must prioritise a number of key issues to ensure his two-year tenure ends on a high note and that this could set the agenda for a longer term and more effective role.

The Low Carbon Construction report created by Mr Morrell’s Innovation and Growth Team identified a 40-year programme of work for the sector to refurbish the built environment and deliver a low carbon future. It identifies huge potential for 200,000 SMEs in the construction sector, but Mr Higgs urged the Adviser to push through key working practices that would turn this potential into a reality.

These include better procurement practices to reduce costs so that the savings could be used to deliver the low carbon agenda. Mr Higgs also said Mr Morrell should use his considerable influence with government to ensure that integrated teams become a mainstay of all public sector procurement; that lifecycle costing is a key part of any tender exercise and that more investment in skills was put in place to equip the industry for delivering low carbon solutions.


On top of that he called for the Government to enforce better compliance with existing regulations – particularly Part L of the Building Regulations; the adoption of ‘Soft Landings’ to improve the handover process to clients; the widespread use of ‘intelligent’ design tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the importance of focusing effort on existing buildings.

If these things are prioritised in the final months of Mr Morrell’s time in office, then his appointment will be considered a success, according to Mr Higgs. However, he told Rumford Club members that the previous Government may have hamstrung Mr Morrell because it did not address all of the industry’s concerns when creating the post. There was considerable doubt that the Adviser had been given the high level of support within Whitehall that was urged by industry, or that he had access to the level of resources needed to be an “enforcer” able to push through significant changes.

“The post was born from considerable frustration within the industry,” said Mr Higgs. “There had been nine Construction Ministers in eight years, all of whom had very broad portfolios so were not able to get to grips with the big issues that mattered to the sector.

“There was poor cohesion and a lack of consistency across government departments in regard to construction matters. In short, an industry that delivers nine per cent of total GDP was not getting the recognition or attention it deserved. We wanted a champion who would improve lines of communication with government and drive through changes in procurement practices,” added Mr Higgs in his presentation.

He reminded his audience that there had been considerable enthusiasm in the industry about the creation of the post. However, that was dampened when a QS was appointed as many felt someone from that profession was most likely to focus exclusively on cutting costs and would not be best placed to tackle the issues that mattered most to the sector such as enforcement of fair payment practices and the difficulties created by the proliferation of pre-qualification tender schemes.

“I am happy to say that, as it happened, most of our reservations were misplaced,” said Mr Higgs. “Mr Morrell has consulted widely and listened to all parts of the industry. He has been focused on achieving ‘best value’ in public sector procurement and has improved dialogue with the Government. However, he has not been able to act in the role of a champion – as many in the industry had hoped - but rather has adopted a support and facilitating role.”

Mr Morrell has struggled with, and criticised the construction industry for, its fragmented nature and the continued use of “Victorian” work practices that make it difficult for the industry to modernise, according to Mr Higgs.


He said it was not his job to lobby the Government for work on our behalf and also bemoaned the fact that many in the industry expected the Government to solve their problems,” said Mr Higgs. “The Government is taking us more seriously now as a result of Mr Morrell’s work, but the pace of change has been very slow.”

The Rumford Club then debated the value of Mr Morrell’s report, which has consumed much of his time in post.  The general consensus was that the 65 recommendations made in the report were too many and could inhibit real action.

However, Mr Higgs said that he supported Mr Morrell’s call for the industry to “show leadership” and to identify the key areas where progress could be made. This would prove to the Government that the sector was “fit for purpose” and able to deliver sustainable solutions on a grand scale.

Turning to the building services sector in particular, he went on to say: “The low carbon agenda is already creating exciting times for procurement right across the built environment and we need to seize our opportunity.  Mr Morrell is still in a powerful position to assist in creating the right working environment that will make sustainable construction a reality. We must show him and Government that, if he delivers his side of the bargain, we can deliver ours.”

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 11:48

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