The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is now under way following the publication of Dame Hackitt’s long and thorough review of regulations.
The Hackitt report understandably chose to concentrate on high-rise or ‘higher-risk’ residential buildings (HRRBs), and I believe her key recommendations report made sense to most in the industry.
The proposal for a joint competent authority helpfully unclutters the regulatory framework and process in a way that is helpful within the context of HRRBs.
Greater clarity within any regulatory framework as to roles and responsibilities is vital, and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations do provide a good template for clear roles and responsibilities.
CDM Regulations are widely understood across parts of the industry, but I would add that they are relatively new and less well understood across the SME sector.
However, there are themes here that I believe can and should be picked up by the industry to drive wider change beyond the specific requirements imposed by high-rise buildings.
Conversations I had with FMB members in the wake of the Grenfell disaster suggested that, among those operating across the wider industry, there was too often a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities.
But nowhere is the need for a wider conversation more pressing than when it comes to competence.
“We need an overarching framework for competence, a framework that can agree on minimum levels of competence across a range of subsectors and disciplines”
Having established that competence is patchy and largely unmonitored, the review tasked the industry with developing an overarching body to provide oversight of competence requirements over the next year.
Dame Hackitt’s interim report had already established that “a lack of any formal process for assuring the skills of those engaged at every stage of the life cycle of HRRBs… [is] a major flaw in the current regulatory system”.
But many in the industry will note that what is true of HRRBs is equally true of the rest of the industry.
All contractors should be licensed
This wholesale inability to ensure competence across the wider industry is the main driver behind the recent launch of the FMB’s campaign to introduce a licensing system for all builders and contractors in the UK construction sector.
We need an overarching framework for competence across the entire industry, a framework that can agree on minimum levels of competence across a range of different subsectors and disciplines.
What’s more, we need this to be compulsory.
The experience of FMB members operating in the domestic sector suggests very clearly that opt-in competency frameworks don’t work. We know they don’t work because of the ongoing prevalence of incompetent outfits and dodgy builders, with all the damage they inflict on the industry.
The knock-on consequences of this continue to be felt across the sector.
In a 21st century construction industry, we need to be able to fully enforce minimum competence levels. Not just to drive out the cowboys – this should be a bare minimum – but to drive a new culture of professionalism and rising quality and productivity across the industry.
To do this, we need a licensing system of the kind that already works well in other countries.
The time has come and I urge everyone out there in agreement to back our campaign.
Brian Berry is chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders