In 1996 Peter Andrews became the rst chairman of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association. Now he has been appointed to the job for a second time. He tells Alasdair Reisner about how the industry has changed
YOU COULD say that the more things change, the more they say the same. It is now 10 years since Peter Andrews took the helm at the newly formed Civil Engineering Contractors Association.
The organisation had been formed in 1996 out of the ashes of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors to represent the interest of civils contractors - campaigning on issues such as Government spending, training, safety and procurement.
A decade on, having taken over from Peter Heathershaw as the association's chairman, Mr Andrews finds himself talking about the same issues.
'I do not think we have the profile we should have, ' he says. 'Civil engineering is vital to everyone's life: it's the road you drive on, the airport you f ly out of, the water you drink, the power you use.
'We provide all these things that are hugely important to the UK. I don't think that is being properly ref lected at a Government level.'
If this is the case then Mr And rews is well placed to make sure the industry's voice is heard. Not only does he have his previous stint as the association's chairman to fall back on, he is also a vicechairman of FIEC, the European construction industry federation. At the time of this interview Mr Andrews was preparing to meet the President of Austria to lobby on behalf of the industry when it comes to the formulation of European directives. So is CECA also talking to the UK Government?
'The reshuffle does allow us to renew contact with the Secretary of State for Transport Douglas Alexander. What we want is a new 10 year plan, which is updated every two years, for infrastructure, ' says Mr Andrews.
This is a sticky point for the association. Back in 2000 it gave a warm welcome to Transport 2010, John Prescott's 10-year vision for the revitalisation of the UK's transport infrastructure through spending on rail schemes, new bypasses and integrated transport schemes. Yet largely these promises proved to be illusory. On the back of a spate of rail crashes, money intended for improving all forms of transport got spent on repairing the country's shattered rail network.
For CECA members that had put their faith in Prescott's plans, investing to meet expected workloads that never materialised, it was a frustrating blow.
Unsurprisingly it has created a certain cynicism about Westminster.
And it is not just the Government that is having its ear bent by Mr And rews. With an eye on a potential change in power, he is ensuring that all parties receive guidance from the association.
'Inevitably we are going to spend more time with the two opposition parties over the next three years because there may be a change in power, ' he says. 'We have an important message to take to the opposition, not just for us but for the country as well. We will never be a thriving economy in Europe and the world without modern infrastructure.'
Mr Andrews says that if the Government is looking for an opportunity to prove its ability to work with the construction industry, the 2012 Olympic Games are the perfect opportunity.
'We need to have the three Cs, ' he says. 'Clarity of purpose, consistency in the way we deliver the work and the cont inuity of this process of deliver ing it by 2012. Let's use tried and tested means to deliver it working together with the Olympic Delivery Authority, Transport for London and so on. We don't have the time to be inventing everything and doing every th ing new. We need to star t now.'
One concern about the Olympics is whether construction will end up getting the blame for cost escalations over which it has no control.
'We are probably seeing cost increases of up to 7 per cent a year in civil engineering, ' Mr Andrews says. 'The effect on contractors would be worrying if the Government is working on the basis of retail pr ice inf lat ion. If the Treasury is building in 2.5 per cent for inf lation they must be aware that is not the figure.'
The concern is that if the Olympic facilit ies do come in over budget, it will be another stick used to beat the industry, which is already punch-drunk after the battering it has taken from delays and cost over runs on jobs such as the Scottish Parliament, British Library and Wembley.
'We are conscious of the need to attract young engineers to the industry. If the Olympics comes in over budget it will not do us any good, ' he says. 'We are doing our utmost to attract people from sixth form onwards but when they read about Wembley it gives the wrong impression. The vast majority of the industry is not like that, ' he says.
But fortunately Mr Andrews believes improvements are beginning to be seen, thanks to changes in the way clients go about procurement.
'If we are looking at the last 10 years I think one of the biggest changes we have seen is in procu rement. We have seen the development of frameworks, team working, public private partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative - the shift of balance on risk, ' he says.
But he adds that we are not there yet and further improvements can be made.
'It is all evolution. We have to keep the good bits. The way in which all the stakeholders contribute more to the process is very good , ' he says. 'The Highways Agency early contractor involvement approach shows a huge amount of common sense. We have to encourage things like that.
'But we have to have competition.
Contractors thrive on competition. They thrive on their ability to deliver innovation, new ways of making a project successful and profitable.'
It appears that after 10 years, even if some of the issues remain unchanged , so is Mr Andrews desire to fight for the civil engineering sector.