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Egan - peace maker? As Sir John Egan's Construction Task Force draws together its conclusions after almost a year long battle with the industry, a distinct truce appears to have been reached between i

When Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott last year named Sir John Egan as chairman of the Construction Task Force, the industry seemed to be on the verge of erupting with indignation.

Another high profile client given carte blanche to run rings around the contractors and consultants, telling them how inefficient the industry was and how good they had to be to get the business.

Add to that Egan's selection of task force members - almost entirely drawn from the client side of the building industry - and the civils side of industry started to feel decidedly ruffled.

'We will not continue to be taken for mugs,' said Tarmac boss and chairman of the Major Contractors Group Sir Neville Simms in January. He was sure that there was little this bunch of clients with its 'fixed view' could really teach the industry that it had not already worked out itself. 'We are not as inefficient as they think,' he added.

The Construction Industry Board seemed to agree. What can Egan do that its Construction Client Forum cannot, it asked. Was not Egan simply repeating the existing post-Latham response by the industry - everyone knew things had to change but that there was no magic wand.

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts pressed this point home in October. 'It will have more chance of success if it does not appear to be a slap in the face for the industry,' he declared in the pages of NCE. Internal battles, back-stabbing and distrust appeared to be the order of the day as people and organisations tried to hang on to their initiatives and power. The task force could even, it was said, 'be damaging to the industry'.

So what has happened? Ten months after Egan picked up Prescott's baton we appear to have eased into something which resembles harmony.

No blood on the streets. People seem to be in agreement; as Egan carries out his last round of informal pre-report chats with the industry's movers and shakers the Task Force is being praised; there is hope and expectation suddenly from the industry. By the end of the month - or more realistically in around six weeks - Egan's report will be sent to Prescott and it would appear that there are few people still shouting from the back rows.

Egan's brief was to take the lead offered by Latham's 1994 industry report on the industry and guide it willingly, kicking or screaming toward the nirvana of improved quality, value and efficiency. As chief executive of BAA with a background in the automotive sector, it was clear from the start that partnering and manufacturing lessons would form the foundation of his response to Prescott.

'People are reassured that nothing unachievable will be proposed,' says Watts. 'Egan wants to sign people up to procuring construction services in a way that they will be able to achieve.'

The plan is to implement the lessons learnt by the task force in as practical a way as possible - each member of Egan's band of wise folk will sign their own real projects up to the new philosophy. Real life practical examples will be set.

There is of course still some scepticism about what Egan's philosophy will contain. When CIC deputy chairman Robin Nicholson reported on the task force's visit to Nissan's car manufacturing plant in Sunderland last March, such fears were highlighted. He commented on the difference between the task force members' enthusiasm for the potential to apply such 'lean manufacturing' techniques in construction with the industry representatives' reaction.

'There was less agreement among the construction industry representatives present about how this potential is to be realised - if in fact it ever can be', he said. And while the two sides agreed that they should work together to drive out waste, he commented 'no clear path for doing this was identified'.

Surely this sort of scepticism cannot evaporate overnight. Watts agrees that there are still worries but adds: 'If Egan says construction must become more like manufacturing then it is not going to work. But if his report asks how can we learn from manufacturing then it is going it the right direction.'

Most now accept that the traditional cry - 'construction is so bespoke it cannot learn from manufacturing' - holds little water. Construction and manufacturing have many elements in common; for instance the need for a well trained workforce and just-in-time delivery. Expanding the list is just a question of stretching the mind laterally.

All this is known. What appears to be new is Egan's acceptance that to take this initiative forward he will have to think practically and tackle the industry as a whole.

For a start it is widely accepted that Egan's efforts must not only lead to existing 'blue chip' clients - the converted - continuing to exclusively refine existing practices. 'It cannot just be about building McDonald's restaurants and Tesco superstores,' commented one DETR observer. 'But Egan and the Deputy Prime Minister have always had the goal of bringing people along with them. The work is not exclusive, but will look at how the whole industry can benefit.'

This is perhaps the crucial test - getting the message down through the industry, right from the BAAs, Tescos and McDonalds of this world down to the so-called 'cowboy' builders and the public face of the industry.

And of course making it relevant to civil engineering. It is after all this sector which boasts perhaps the worst reputation for cost escalation, inefficiency and safety problems.

So when John Prescott gets his report and the task force starts spreading the word on tablets of stone, it is only this downward and outward filtering of the message that will stop an even worse sound being made by the industry - the silence as everyone ignores and forgets the task force ever existed.

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