Hackitt criticises construction industry ‘excuses’

Hackitt criticises construction industry ‘excuses’

DAME JUDITH Hackitt was critical of the sector’s ‘excuses’ for slow pace of change post Grenfell, and called its common practices ‘gob-smacking’.

Building reported on Dame Judith’s comments at a construction industry conference last week, where she said that that sector ‘lacks the leadership to make the necessary changes to make itself safe’, while its common practices were ‘jaw-dropping’. She also claimed that the sector fell back on ‘excuses’ to justify an inability to improve, and complained that change was ‘happening too slowly’.

Dame Judith stated: ‘There are people who are already making moves and who are already doing the right things. But my observation would be that there’s not enough of it, there’s a lack of leadership, there’s a lack of real drive and collective commitment to make this happen. I still get this strong sense that this industry is waiting to be told what to do by this regulator. And I don’t know why. Because you know what you need to do. And I believe you can get on with it. I believe it is folly not to get on with it.’

She pointed out that during her review of building regulations and fire safety post Grenfell, she had found some of the practices undertaken industry wide as ‘jaw-dropping’, while the lack of proper change management on projects was ‘nothing short of gob-smacking’, adding: ‘When people say to me things like “the architect’s not allowed on [the building] site”, I’m like, “What? Why? What’s going on?” Why would you exclude someone who came up with the concept [of a building] in the first place, unless you’re trying to cheat.’

As the chair of the transition board for the new building safety regulator, Dame Judith noted that the industry’s ‘fragmentation’ – which has tens of thousands of businesses across ‘multiple layers’ of subcontracting ‘even [on] small jobs’ – was used as an excuse ‘too often’ for not taking fire safety more seriously’. She called for less ‘adversarial practices’ and for recognition that project teams should collaborate around a ‘collective purpose’.

Dame Judith continued: ‘We need a culture change in this industry. You need to care about the buildings that you are in the supply chain for. You need to care that the people who are going to live in them and work in them and sleep in them feel safe and are safe. Until you care, this system will not change and will not work.

‘There’s too many excuses and the one I hear more often than not is that this is such a fragmented industry. Well perhaps you need to change the level of fragmentation within the industry.’

She concluded by noting that the current system of individuals and firms taking out professional indemnity insurance ‘wasn’t working in the interest of projects’ clients’, and called for more use of collective project insurance. Last week, she admitted the new regulator was ‘not likely’ to be operating until 2021.

Last month, the government announced new measures including the new building safety regulator, which will be sited within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and ‘established immediately’. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick added that the regulator will ‘give effective oversight of the design, construction and occupation’ of high risk buildings, as part of the HSE, which will ‘quickly begin to establish’ it ‘in shadow form immediately’, prior to establishment with legislation.

The regulator will ‘raise building safety and performance standards’ and oversee a ‘new, more stringent regime’ for higher risk buildings, and Dame Judith will chair a board to ‘oversee the transition’. The HSE was chosen for its ‘strong track record of working with industry and other regulators to improve safety’, and would ‘draw on experience and the capabilities of other regulators to implement the new regime’.