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Signoff: David Taylor

IT SEEMS hardly credible that so many British contractors and consultants were belly-aching as recently as 18 months ago about the Americans not giving them a fair slice of the Iraq rebuilding work.

And, unlike some European nations, we actually helped with the invas. . . sorry, liberation, too!

Well it's worked out fairly equal in the end and we've had our rightful share of civilian contractors kidnapped. But it beats me why we should have been so desperate to get involved in the first place.

There's no great shortage of construction work in the UK at the moment, so why go to the most unstable part of the world looking for more?

When those contractors 'lucky' enough to have landed work in Iraq start coyly admitting that they aren't making much money out of the venture, you've got to ask yourself if they are completely mad.The only other explanation is that British contractors somehow know that one day soon the money's going to start rolling in and a new era of wealth and happiness will dawn in the Middle East.

Let's hope so, eh?

I KNOW just how Tony Blair must feel at the moment.

I've had a major cabinet re-shuffle myself over the past week, and I cannot for the life of me remember where I've put my spare printer cartridges.Mr Blair's problem is, if anything, even more acute, as he risks losing track of his ministers as well as his stationery - not to mention losing touch with the electorate.

By the time this is published we might have a completely new construction minister.Then again, we might not have one at all. Ever since Nigel Griffiths' no-show at a Specialist Engineering Contractors'Group seminar a week ago, speculation has been rife about Mr Griffiths' parliamentary destiny.What do you mean, 'who's Nigel Griffiths?'

That's the problem, you see.Half the industry desperately wish Nick Raynsford were still construction minister and the other half thinks he still is.We were spoiled by Mr Raynsford: he knew what he was talking about, which isn't the case with all junior ministers. Remember Brian Wilson? Neither do I.

But although Nick Raynsford was a tough act to follow, Nigel Griffiths has at least put a bit of effort into the job.Now, just as his tenure in the post looks about to be cut short, he's showing signs of doing something really worthwhile for the industry: scrapping the Quality Mark.

Even though everybody knows that the only effective anti-cowboy initiative is a dozen Sioux braves armed with Winchester repeaters, the Government has doggedly persisted in hawking about its own solution to the cowboys: a sort of club that is so exclusive that no builder can afford the membership.The industry has treated the idea with the scorn it so richly deserves.

Well all of a sudden, here's Nigel Griffiths calling a meeting of trade associations and other interested bodies to knock the silly idea on the head.

The successor could of course be just as hopeless - but we ought at least give Mr Griffiths a chance to come up with something.

He couldn't do any worse than the construction minister who was in charge of introducing the Quality Mark.Who was that? Oh yes: that nice Mr Raynsford.

British industry.He was only 66.He had great style and ability and we owe the Channel Tunnel largely to his skill and determination.

I hear through the industry grapevine that his body is to be interred in a specially-commission mausoleum. It's believed to be a massive concretelined affair with two voluminous running-crypts and a cavernous cross-over sepulchre in the middle.