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The positive lesson that must be learned

Agenda

THE 1990s will go down in construction history as the decade when suddenly everything seemed to change. It began well, turned sour, then went from bad to worse. The recession double-dipped and, according to some, even 'treble-troughed'.

For those that suffered or collapsed - remember Lilley Group and Rush and Tompkins - the '90s were one of the toughest trading periods this century.

But they were also a decade of momentous change. A shared desire never to have to go through it again sowed the seeds for new approaches to working throughout the supply chain.

Now a mood of optimism reigns.

The Construction Act is making payment disputes and delays, once the scourge of construction, rarer. Distrust andin-fighting is gradually giving way to a new spirit of openness, trust and team working. On top of this come forecasts predicting rising workloads over the next two or three years.

So the first years of the next millennium promise to be good for everyone.

But the construction environment remains as demanding as ever, and a place for the canny.

Investment targeted at efficiency and performance gains is now necessary for survival, not a luxury.

Social housing repair and urban regeneration is in the ascendant but commercial and leisure may be on the wane. Transport promises to be high on the agenda in future, and with it an opportunity to tackle the huge maintenance backlog.

Firms of all sizes that use IT and the Internet to greatest effect, and can respond swiftly to changing markets and client demands will find the next decade a happy one.

Those failing to do this may not suffer the calamitous fate of Rush and Tompkins, rather, they may just wither as new competition, both at home and overseas, takes its toll.

So with most firms in better shape than at any other time during the '90s prospects are very good.

The art is to keep them that way.

Let's see road spend detail

LABOUR'S decision to put road spending back squarely on the agenda with its £80 billion, 10-year transport plan looks to be a step in the right direction.

But there are too many question marks hanging over the detail of the good news, particularly the Treasury's view of how the work will be paid for. Let's not get too excited until we know whether the government's pledge is real - or propaganda.