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'As most people know, M4I promotes the Egan-inspired methods by which construction will be transformed. Into what, nobody seems to know'

David Taylor takes a light-hearted look at the industry in his regular fortnightly column

WE COULD be witnessing the end of the British construction industry as we know it.

Not that anybody seems particularly bothered.

By that, I mean to say that no major contractor seems happy to be associated with the business of construction any more, having apparently concluded that we're notvery good at running big contractors ourselves, after all.

When the French cattle-fodder hits the fan, we do one of three things: sell up to a foreign construction firm that knows its onions; get out of contracting altogether and start calling ourselves something modern, sexy and meaningless, like 'service provider'. Or, we stay in construction but simply pretend that we work in a different industry altogether.

I prefer the sell-out option myself, as it maintains the semblance of a British industry. Look at Costain: hardly British at all.

Remember Trafalgar House? A Norwegian would.

Now Bovis has gone down under. Aussie developer Lend Lease liked its Bluewater shopping centre so much, it echoed the famous 1970's electric razor advert and went out and bought the company.

The latest rumour of a takeover concerns that bastion of Britishness, Tarmac.

Of course, Tarmac is no longer a construction firm, but it can't pretend to be in a different industry because it makes building materials.

Carillion, which sounds like it isn't in the construction game but actually is, is doing quite nicely since it stopped calling itself Tarmac, which sort of proves my point.

If the French or the Germans or the Irish buy Tarmac, they might call it something new and the most famous name in British construction will disappear altogether.

Surely, that would be the beginning of the end.

Leaner and meaner

A QUICKER way of to get Britain out of construction is to sack everybody who works in it. I'd like to say right here that that's not what the Movement for Innovation is aiming for.

As most people know, M4I promotes the Egan-inspired methods by which construction will be transformed. Into what, nobody seems to know.

Anyway, a key element of this is the adoption of 'lean' construction. They took the idea from 'lean' manufacturing. You remember manufacturing? We used to do it over here.

Lean just means skinny.

But what better way to emaciate the industry than through swingeing job cuts?

Tarmac has shed hundreds of jobs since hiving off Carillion; Christiani & Nielsen has chopped 15 per cent of its UK workforce and now Laing has announced the loss of a massive 800 jobs over the next three years (as it edges cautiously away from contracting so that it can pretend to be in a completely different industry).

Is it significant that Sir Martin Laing and C&N's Alan Crane are both big noises in M4I? And should we worry that they head up the 'Sustainability' and 'Respect for People' taskforces, respectively?

Tea for two, To4T

WHICH reminds me. I promised to let you know how I got on with my new anti-taskforce initiative, To4T.

Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is I enjoyed my teatime meeting with Cherie Booth QC who, amazingly, turns out to be the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair. A veritable coup!

The bad news is she said To4T is a pile of crap and wants nothing to do with it.

I shall have to continue alone in my struggle against the forces of conservatism.