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NSCC-UKCG merger may offer the unity we need

It’s a bit of turn up for the books, isn’t it? Despite the seemingly unresolvable differences of some of their members over payment and retentions, two industry tribes are discussing a merger.

As we report this week, the UK Contractors Group - the voice of the major contractors - and the National Specialist Construction Council - the voice of the supply chain - are consulting members about joining forces.

UKCG chief executive Stephen Ratcliffe is to step down in June and the plan would be for NSCC boss Suzannah Nichol to take over a newly joined group if it goes ahead.

Clear benefits

Once you get over the initial surprise, its merits become obvious.

There’s much in common between the main contractors and the companies that make up the 31 specialist trade bodies under the NSCC.

Having main contractors and their suppliers around one table could provide much-needed unity on skills, safety and diversity.

It could also offer a louder and unified lobbying voice to government on the need for visible pipelines and investment.

“Has the world moved on sufficiently since then for things to be different this time?”

Who knows, it could even make companies start playing by payment rules that keep suppliers in business, not push them into administration.

The Construction Leadership Council’s Fair Payment Charter doesn’t appear to be making much headway.

There’s also little evidence that stringent payment terms for public projects are filtering down the supply chain.

These issues are unlikely to evaporate overnight, but a merger could help resolve them.

Potential cons

Many positives then, but there are also potential downsides for specialists being invited inside the major contractors’ tent.

There would certainly be more potential for SMEs’ voices to be drowned out; or for the creation of an organisation that would be shackled by having to please too many different groupings.

And there’s the question of where this would leave other bodies like the National Federation of Builders or the Federation of Master Builders?

And why stop there: why not reform the Construction Liaison Group which saw engineering specialists form an alliance with the building specialists?

We have been there before, of course: a broad spectrum of contracting used to cohabit as the Construction Confederation.

This was disbanded in 2008, largely because of the competing priorities of its members.

Has the world moved on sufficiently since then for things to be different this time?

It would be nice to think so, but wise not to presume so.

Ultimately, for all concerned, it’s a question of whether the pressures of making money in construction are best tackled by co-operation or confrontation.

Jaw jaw is surely always the answer to that.

Now to come up with a name for the new grouping.

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