Working together

The Construction Industry Council convened an important event last Thursday. Titled ‘Rethinking Professional Services for the Low Carbon Future’, the one-day conference brought together representatives from most of the built environment professions, government and industry to address possibly the most important issue facing us all.

There was a palpable sense of frustration in the room at Store Street but also determination. Frustration that pilot projects aren’t followed up, Government initiatives abandoned or downgraded, documented good practice ignored. Determination that things can be different.

Paul Morrell, chief construction advisor to the Government, pointed out that virtually everything in theUK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan* involves construction but the industry “does not have a plan for its own future.”

Morrell took over the work of the Innovation and Growth Team (IGT), commissioned by the last government to consider how theUKconstruction industry can rise to the challenge of the low carbon agenda. The team’s interim report was published in March and the new government has endorsed the initiative. A final report should be published at the end of this year.

The interim report calls for a “quantum change” in the industry’s response to the challenge if the commitments of the Climate Change Act are to be met. It identifies barriers to progress including: the structure of the industry; the need for “up-skilling” across the supply chain; the gap between the design criteria of buildings and their performance; and a continuing preoccupation with initial capital spend, rather than whole life basis cost.

In addition to its emerging findings, the report has just one key recommendation to Government: to commission a suitably qualified “programme manager” to prepare a detailed execution plan for the physical work assumed in the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan.

This recommendation is supported by 18 propositions and Morrell highlighted one of these – the need to include auditing of a building’s performance in a project’s costing. “Carbon is as important as money,” he said, “we must develop whole life carbon accounting.”

Morrell didn’t pull any punches when it came to vested interests which, he said, could slow progress. He was quite critical of the built environment professions which he said could be protectionist and competitive.

This point was picked up later, although more mildly, by Bill Bordass who called for more “learned societies” to develop and publish knowledge.

The internet has transformed our ability to disseminate information rapidly but is the Facebook approach right? No self-respecting project is now without a website, associated discussion forum and a presence on social networks.

This is fine if you’re living and breathing the subject but if you actually want to find out something it can lead to a frustrating virtual treasure hunt, following snippets of someone else’s conversation and picking up clues which often lead to another dead end.

We need to connect the knowledge locked-up in projects, research reports, and online document libraries across professional bodies, consultancies and many other organisations. This will require consistent tagging and a really good search engine plus unprecedented openness.

As someone said last week, knowledge transfer is a contact sport.



Invisible support?

Is good FM invisible? This has been the received wisdom. Apart from a period in the ’90s when ambitious facilities managers were being persuaded to turn their operations into profit centres, the idea was that FM worked quietly in the background, only attracting attention when it failed.

Well, according to Barry Varcoe, speaking in a plenary session at Smart FM yesterday (8th September): “No longer should FM be the silent service”.

In a simple but powerful presentation, mixing strategic thinking with some key metrics, Varcoe argued that FM must move beyond cost to true value. “If we carry on down the commodity route our influence will diminish,” he said.

In a succinct critique of many of the big FM service providers and the traditional corporate property model, he said that silo working has to be fixed, assets managed for value, not cost and integration (rather than simply coordination) pursued.

Drawing on his extensive experience as a consultant and with the Royal Bank of Scotland, Varcoe explained that if you put FM in the mix right at the beginning, then you will get true value engineering out of a project.

It was a good start to an interesting day.

At a later session, one of the speakers said: “The best FM is not noticed.” There was widespread nodding on the panel and murmurs of assent from the audience. I mentioned Varcoe’s call for FM to assert itself. The ensuing discussion suggested that people want recognition for their efforts but are wary of pushing further. Another panel member said: “I’d pull back from over-promotion. FM is a support service after all.”

Ken Platt, now retired as head of property with LB Lewisham, made a strong point. One of his aspirations, he said, was that the advice of FMs should be accepted in the same way as that from other professionals around the table. To achieve that, he had to raise the profile of the team and its achievements.

What do you think? Should FM be the “invisible service” or promote its activities and success more widely.


It’s a brave man that quotes Anais Nin at a facilities management conference but Barry concluded his presentation with a line from the rather exotic Cuban-French-Catalan author. Here’s the full quote: “It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”