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Minister swift to meet chiefs

Construction left without a dedicated minister for the first time in decades but new man at industry arranges early meeting

NEW INDUSTRY minister Alun Michael was due to have his first gettogether with the construction sector this week at a meeting of industry think-tank the Strategic Forum.

Mr Michael was due to meet industry leaders at the central London offices of Strategic Forum chairman Peter Rogers yesterday (Wednesday).

One source said: 'I'm quite impressed that he's going to the Strategic Forum, if that's the case. He's only been in his new post since last week.'

Mr Michael is expected to hold a more formal meeting with trade bodies before Parliament begins its summer recess at the end of July.With Mr Michael just 10 days into his job no firm dates have been decided yet but contractors' groups and products organisations have written to the Department for Trade and Industry requesting a meeting.

It is unlikely that the former rural affairs minister will meet groups individually.Officials are thought to be trying to arrange a meeting of all the construction umbrella bodies.

As minister of state for industry Mr Michael will be responsible for more than 50 industries.The only sectors he will not be in charge of, chemicals and biotechnology, are being handled by science minister Lord Sainsbury.

Construction groups were unperturbed by the amount on Mr Michael's plate. Construction Confederation chief executive Stephen Ratcliffe said: 'One hopes he will prioritise these areas and, if he does, then construction should be at the top of the list.Construction is 10 per cent of the economy, after all.'

Construction Products Association chief executive Michael Ankers said: 'The team looking after construction at the DTI is as large a team as any other.'

But Mr Michael's appointment means the industry is without its first titled construction minister in decades.

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts said: 'I have been involved in construction since the 1970s and we've always had a minister.

'It will be interesting to see how it changes from having a minister to ourselves to being one of many.'

The confusion over last week's ministerial changes led many to wrongly believe Barry Gardiner was the minister in charge of construction.

Construction News understands a DTI official pasted Mr Gardiner's details onto those of former minister Nigel Griffiths but forgot to take off Mr Griffiths's previous responsibilities, which included construction.A source said: 'This was emailed out so we thought Gardiner was the new man.'