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Graham Watts First was the Word ... but is this the way?

Lest there be any mistake about it, let me make it perfectly clear that I am a Believer. OK, I may have had some doubts to begin with, but I have now seen the Light. I believe in the Movement for Innovation and in the process of Rethinking Construction.

I believe in achieving the improvements set down by Sir John Egan and his task force through the sensible medium of demonstration projects. I don't want anyone to misconstrue that what I am about to write suggests that I do not believe.

About 350 people attended a conference on 3 November to witness the grand plan to implement Rethinking Construction, alongside four government ministers. Construction is to be rethought by a movement for innovation. Since everything in our industry gets an acronym let me be the first to christen the movement as MFI, which somehow seems to be particularly appropriate.

There are already over 80 proposed demonstration projects, although none has yet been assessed in any detail to see if it is for real or just band-waggoning. Sir John has said each project should demonstrate how to achieve one of his targets. They should all do much more.

Demonstrating how to improve efficiency, productivity, client satisfaction or best value is fine, but it cannot be at the expense of more fundamental objectives. Every project must achieve a high benchmark in health and safety, energy use, environmental issues and training considerations. These objectives must be non-negotiable, no matter how excellent the project may be in other efficiency improvements.

Although I am a Believer, the movement for innovation is where I begin to have doubts. Most of the blurb suggests MFI will not become an organisation, but it has got a name. It will be run by an executive committee, guided by an advisory panel and managed by a secretariat. It is supposed to be industry-led but the Government has already appointed the chairman and civil servants will take the minutes.

I suspect MFI will also have members. It will need them in order to escape the heavy hand of government. There is already talk of the need for a full time manager and the moment this appointment is made the die will be cast!

In due course, members will be asked to pay a subscription. It is in the natural order of things. Whatever the blurb says, MFI sounds like a new organisation and I have never yet known anything to be established in our industry which does not take on a life of its own.

Most of the people involved in writing the blueprint for Rethinking construction are unhappy with our existing bodies. They do not wish radical change to be obstructed by vested interest. But most of these people are already wearing one vest or another. MFI's executive committee is to be chaired by Alan Crane, the MD of civil engineering contractor Christiani & Nielson. He is an excellent choice with wide expertise, but is currently chairman of the Construction Confederation, the lobbying body for contractors.

Rethinking Construction means challenging existing roles and structures and this could conceivably mean not having main contractors any more. How can the leader of the main contractors be the right person to lead the change?

Sir John Egan, his acolytes and the DETR may not have wanted to establish an organisation, nor to hand rethinking of the construction process over to existing organisations. The paradox is that they are creating a new organisation to be inhabited by much the same people who are running the existing institutions!

The Movement has a huge message to get across, but will the creation of two new organisations (MFI and the Housing Forum) help or hinder this process?

Graham Watts is chief executive of the Construction Industry Council.

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