Construction needs to rally round and fix its failings

The government’s former chief construction adviser Paul Morrell was this week appointed to co-chair an independent review of the system for testing construction products. He explains why, amid the uncomfortable revelations coming out of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the construction industry needs to rally to fix problems wherever they are discovered
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I don’t think anybody expected anything but discomfort from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

All who work in construction know that it is subject to error because of fragmentation of responsibilities, a consequent lack of clear accountability, poor communications, unreliable levels of competence and the temptations of poorly operated procurement by lowest bid.

I would hope and expect, though, that almost everyone has been shocked by the light shone by the Inquiry on examples of malpractice and the apparent disregard shown for the potentially appalling consequences of, to use the Secretary of State’s words, ‘gaming the system’.

In spite of that, I hope and believe that the great majority of people who work in the construction industry, while recognising its weaknesses, do not to want to work in any other, and want to do a good job. So now is a good time for those people to rally around and think what contribution they can make to fixing problems where they see them.

In part, of course, this is a cultural issue that needs to run right through the supply chain, and that is down to all of us.

However, cultural change is slow and in the meantime the issue of building safety is clearly both vitally important and urgent.

The purpose of the review is therefore to establish to what extent the problems revealed in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (which, sadly, surely cannot be unique) can be managed by changes in standards, protocols, regulatory oversight and any other influence that might secure the reliance that has to be placed in the claims made for construction components.

My co-lead Anneliese Day QC and I will therefore be consulting widely with the industry over the next few weeks, with support from officials in Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) — although I would stress that the review is an independent one — and we are asking industry umbrella bodies to coordinate that where appropriate so we can reach the greatest possible number of people with contributions to make on the specific issue of product testing.

Paul Morrell was the UK’s first chief construction adviser between 2009 and 2012.

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