LACK OF government leadership on sustainability is undermining efforts to improve the energy efficiency of the built environment, former construction minister Nick Raynsford said last week.
Raynsford, now chairman of the Construction Industry Council, said that prime minister Tony Blair had downgraded the role of construction minister since he left office six years ago.
This had left a leadership vacuum at a time when the government's own buildings are failing to meet sustainability targets. 'Government needs to give a centralised and consistent message [on sustainability], ' said Raynsford.
His views were reinforced by Office of Government Commerce executive director of smarter procurement Sally Collier who admitted that there was little consistency in government procurement policy. She said there were gulfs in competence between central government departments and local government.
Both were speaking at the ICE's Sustainable Procurement Conference in London last week.
Tackling sustainability in the design and construction of the built environment will make a bigger difference to the UK's overall environmental performance than tackling it in any other sector, Raynsford said.
'But since I left office [as construction minister] six years ago there have been four ministers with responsibility for construction. None has had time to set a course and see it through, ' he said.
'I want the next minister to be in post for long enough to make a difference on the sustainability agenda, rather than be reshuffled to a new post.' Former Carillion chief executive, now chairman of generator International Power, Sir Neville Simms also lambasted the government for its lack of accountability on sustainability.
'Government buildings are required to meet BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) performance standards but consistently fail to do so, ' said Simms.
'Yet nobody does anything about it. Buildings are being put up to false specifi cations. If this was happening in the private sector heads would roll.' Simms called for parliamentary under-secretaries to be given explicit responsibilities for setting government sustainability targets and ensuring compliance.
'Performance expectations need to be written into their contracts and failure to meet those expectations should be a disciplinary or sackable offence.' Simms headed the government appointed Sustainable Procurement Task Force that reported late last year.
Its report urged the government to lead on sustainability by example, set clear priorities, set higher standards, develop more in-house competence and encourage new thinking.