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Speaking with one voice

In a week's time we shall be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the very first meeting of the Building Industry Council, forerunner to the Construction Industry Council, held on 1 November 1988. Recent weeks have therefore been much occupied with reflections on how it all came about.

Ten years ago the Group of Eight (G8) was the industry's leading light in its relationship with Government but the batteries had pretty much failed. G8 brought together three professional institutions (including ICE), three employer trade associations and two trades unions.

It had enjoyed a reasonable relationship with the Labour administrations of the 1970s and it did have a meeting with the Leaderene in the early 1980s. I remember the version of that meeting which did the rounds of the construction after-dinner circuit: Margaret Thatcher only spoke once in an hour-long meeting but the G8 chairman still managed to thank her in the remaining minute!

By 1987 the Group of Eight was so moribund that RIBA decided to stop running it and ICE took over the show with the then Secretary, John McKenzie, replacing RIBA's chief mandarin, Patrick Harrison, as the G8 secretary and Gwilym Roberts becoming its chairman.

It was all far too late to make it mean something. Anything this self- appointed elite said on behalf of the construction industry was instantly undermined by any or all of the other construction organisations not part of G8.

There were numerous other groups claiming to represent the industry 10 years ago. How many readers remember the Presidents' Committee for the Urban Environment (P-CUE), or the Building Industry Liaison Committee (BILC)? There was also the NEDC for Building and the National Joint Consultative Committee. Government had its own Construction Consultative Committee and even this split in two.

First proposals for the Building Industry Council were put to a meeting of BILC in 1985. They were supported by the CIOB, CIBSE and IStructE but opposed by the RICS. RIBA sat on the fence and since ICE was not part of BILC it was not even consulted. BILC took no further action.

In November 1986, RIBA past president (and G8 past chairman) Owen Luder called for the Group to be strengthened. Demonstrating harmony within RIBA, the incoming RIBA president, Rod Hackney, then immediately called for the Group to be disbanded! But he supported the concept of the Building Industry Council, a cause being championed by the tireless and effervescent Ted Happold.

In June 1987, the institutions met to consider founding a new BIC, this time to include the ICE. The proposal was for a fraternal Council with an independent secretariat, funded by a levy of 90p per head on the 135,000 members.

The plan was backed by the architects, builders, services and structural engineers but not by the surveyors or the civil engineers. And despite the potential loss of more than half the proposed subscriptions, the public launch of the BIC occurred on 16 September 1987.

So why is the Construction Industry Council celebrating its 10th anniversary on 1 November rather than its 11th birthday last month? Good question. The fact is that after the press announcement of the launch doubts began to emerge. The Architects' Journal described the initiative as 'woolly- minded and impracticable'; Building called it 'an unfortunate mix of sketchy sentiments and grandiloquent aims'; NCE damned the whole thing by not mentioning it!

Nine monthly meetings of a steering group from the four proposing institutions followed. By then RICS was on board and at the first meeting on 1 November 1988 BIC had five founding institutions.

Once running, ICE began to regard BIC in a different light and in 1989 carried out a survey which showed that more than 50% of its members worked in 'building'. This provided ICE and president Alastair Paterson with the purpose to join BIC. Later that year, Robin Wilson, who was to become the first (and, so far, only) civil engineer to lead CIC, argued successfully to change the name to the 'Construction' Industry Council.

While CIC may still have many weaknesses as an organisation, it now provides a single voice for over 50 disparate organisations. One measure of its success might be that none of the organisations which claimed to speak for construction in the 1980s are still around today.

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