Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Signoff: David Taylor

BIG contractors, like Balfour Beatty, Laing O'Rourke and Multiplex might dominate the headlines, but it's the small to medium-sized companies which generate the bulk of construction industry turnover.

That's one of the reasons why the Government set up the Small Business Service six years ago.

The SBS champions the needs of small business within Government and delivers a range of services to industry. In fact, it has been estimated that every £1 spent by the SBS generates a return to the economy of more than £2.

DTI minister Margaret Hodge is really pleased with this, and rightly so. And like a good politician, she's determined to build on the success of the SBS.

'Businesses have told us they want a stronger SBS with more clout in Government, ' she said last week.

So how's she going to do it? Why, by mak ing it smaller, of course.

'From April 2007 the SBS will no longer be required to have Execut ive Agency status and will instead operate as an exper t policy un it with in the DTI's Enterprise and Business Group, ' said last week's DTI press release.

Well, after all, it is for small businesses isn't it?

IN TODAY'S neurotically risk-averse world it's nice occasionally to encounter some good, healthy, devil-may-care recklessness. Our daily lives are so regulated we need that frisson of fear to make us feel alive again.

I'm sure this is why so many people these days take up extreme sports such as bungee-jumping, paragliding and weekend shopping at Argos. Deliberately putting yourself in harm's way always gets the adrenaline pumping.

In the northern Dutch town of Drachten, they don't have to go to such lengths to get that reckless thrill. All they have to do is drive around town. This is all thanks to a renegade traffic planner called Hans Monderman, who has prevailed upon the local authority to remove all the traffic lights in the town.

They started ripping the lights out seven years ago, since when there hasn't been a single fatal road accident in the town. Mr Monderman's theory is that removing traffic lights forces motorists to be more aware of other road users. So take away the traffic lights and instead of the government taking the risk, the motorist has to take responsibility for his actions.

'It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want, ' said Mr Monderman earlier this week.

'We want small accidents in order to prevent serious ones, in which people get hurt.'

Statistically, we all take our lives in our hands each time we get into the car and all that Mr Monderman is doing is making sure everybody in Drachten appreciates the fact.

I dread to think what our construction sites would be like if Mr Monderman got his hands on them.

MR MONDERMAN'S libertarian approach to health and safety st r ikes me as typically Dutch. It's not the way we solve problems here in the UK. The British solution to Drachten's traffic problem would have been to set up an off icial body to comm ission studies and interview focus groups about it.

This appears to be what the UK plant and tool hire industry has done in response to the problem of handarm vibration syndrome, or HAVS.

We've already got the Construction Plant-hire Association and the Hire Association Europe representing the interests of plant and tool hirers. But it seems that in order to get to grips with HAVS we need another, entirely new, organisation. This new body is known as the Major Hire Companies Group and it's quite obvious who's behind it - all the movers and shakers, of course.