Dame Judith Hackitt told those attending the Competency Steering Group (CSG) meeting about its interim report not to ‘wait’ for regulations, while the FPA responded to her comments at the event.
Yesterday, it was reported that at a meeting to discuss the recent Raising the Bar report in London, Dame Judith ‘slammed’ construction industry members who ‘worried more about the cost’ of a building safety regime. The Industry Regulatory Group (IRG) conference in London discussed recommendations in the recent report, with the CSG summary from working groups created after the Hackitt Review including ‘sweeping proposals to raise competence and make buildings safer’.
Last month, the report - out for consultation until 18 October – was released by the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which noted that the ‘radical and wide-ranging’ measures aim to improve competence in design, construction, inspection, maintenance and operation of high risk residential buildings (HRRBs). The cross industry group has been backed by the government as well as the Industry Safety Steering Group and Dame Judith.
The CSG – set up by the IRG to ‘tackle competency failings’ identified by Dame Judith – brought together over 150 institutions and associations across the ‘full spectrum’ of construction, the built environment, fire safety and the building owner and management sectors, with all working ‘towards the common purpose of raising competences to improve life safety’.
Yesterday, Dame Judith noted that she had heard – at the IRG meeting – a delegate asking whether ‘the size of the regulatory burden was worth the benefit?’ She ‘wondered “how can you ask such a thing?” This is about the industry getting to where it should have been, not about whether the cost is worth the candle. This is about a big culture change that absolutely must happen’, and also said that introducing any new competency system must be a ‘phased’ process, with HRRBs ‘taking priority’.
She added: ‘The biggest risk is the scope question, because the bigger the scope the more challenging it will be to implement this. That is not to say that over time I would not want to see good practice filter down to every single aspect of all buildings, [but] this is a culture change that should start with the highest hazards and risks – HRRBs.’
While the system would eventually have to cover other different buildings, she noted that ‘I think we have to recognise that this is a project to be managed and that you have to do it in a number of stages. Let’s get it right, and let’s get it working on the most important and highest risks first, and then extend it’.
Dame Judith called sector progress ‘encouraging’ but warned that the construction industry was still ‘not moving fast enough’, and that a ‘widespread culture of indifference and ignorance’ in some areas of the sector persisted, with ‘no real sense about what matters’, while some had wanted to ‘just finish the job and not care about the quality aspect’.
She ‘expressed disappointment’ that the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) ‘had not engaged more’ with the CSG working groups. Noting that ‘surely it makes sense for this to be an industry-wide process’, she said that the CITB ‘should be a part of that’, and criticised attempts to ‘dilute’ the role of the building safety manager into a safety coordinator role.
Delivering the new competency environment would be ‘harder than what you’ve done so far’, she told delegates’, urging them to ‘hold on to why you are doing this. The industry has to change and it has to deliver. Many people out there need to know that we are doing all we can to make their homes safer’. The final document is expected by the end of 2019 or in early 2020.
In a release from the CIC, it quoted Dame Judith as stating that ‘my personal view is that the direction of travel is right, and progress on many of the aspects of implementing the recommendations [set out in her report] is encouraging. But we’re not moving fast enough to change any of it. So, what are we waiting for? Why is there still a sense of waiting to be told?
‘More importantly still, I think you need to examine why you are doing this. You should be doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Not because the rules and legislation make you do it’. She said that the CSG’s work was ‘impressive’, but that ‘changing the regulatory framework, which some of you are waiting for, is going to take time. There is more to do to turn this plan into real and lasting cultural change on the ground’.
Her speech praised the CSG’s work in bringing the industry ‘a considerable way along the journey towards improving competence’, and acknowledged that getting insurance for working on HRRBs was ‘problematic’, advising the CSG to ‘consult widely’ with insurers to see if measures ‘would reassure them that the industry was raising its game’.
Graham Watts, chair of the CSG, added: ‘This competence work will continue. We won’t rely on regulation to make it happen. We don’t need to wait to ask about the competence of people we’re appointing – we should be asking that now.’
Chandru Dissanayeke, building safety programme director at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government noted that improving building safety ‘was the most important work’ on the government’s agenda, and ‘allayed fears that it could be blown off course by an election and possible change of government’, noting that ‘it was key for government to work with the industry more closely to drive a culture change through the sector’.
Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the FPA, commented: ‘Needless to say we wholeheartedly support what Dame Judith has to say on this – it is moving far too slowly in our view. It shouldn’t require mandating to achieve the culture change identified as required by Dame Judith, and which was so apparent in the systemic failure so graphically highlighted by the speed and extent of fire spread at Grenfell.
‘As we move further away from the incident in the early hours of that morning in June 2017, memories fade and the cultural change required will almost certainly become more difficult to achieve. Graham Watts and the team he has assembled have done a tremendous job in achieving broad agreement from a diverse group of stakeholders, but it is the commitment to act now to effect change that is missing – perhaps the report would have been better entitled a “Call for Action” rather than “Raising the Bar”!’