We have the opportunity to change the construction industry in this country for the better, improving the quality of the built environment and ensuring the highest standards are met in all new-build housing.
The built environment is something that has an impact on each and every one of us. The need to make the buildings in which we live and work as safe as possible cannot be overstated. Knowing what we now know - post-Grenfell, and since the Cole report into Edinburgh school defects - about the worst that can happen when safety, security and quality are not priorities, we have a responsibility to support those wanting to change things for the better.
There are already organisations at the heart of the construction industry seeking to make those changes and proposing potential answers to the question of how to improve quality. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) will, next week, provide an update on the activities of their Construction Quality Commission.
This Commission was launched to identify the behaviours, both individual and corporate, that either promote or prevent delivery of quality, and what steps can be taken to bring about the changes needed. In gathering evidence and consulting with industry, it became clear that there is a need for top-to-bottom change, and an urgent need to stop quality being sacrificed for time and cost considerations. The loss of quality as a priority is not happening everywhere, but it is enough to ring alarm bells.
The headlines from the Commission’s work are two broad strategies to deliver practical changes and five key principles to bring about cultural change. The strategic pushes will cover:
- A new industry a Code of Quality Practice, providing guidance on the best practice currently to be seen in the industry and proposing standards for which the sector should be aiming.
- Education. The CIOB wants to raise awareness of quality management and give people the knowledge and practical tools to deliver it. This work has already started with a new training course on managing quality which is also the start of establishing a system of certification.
- The cultural changes will be harder to bring about. However, the CIOB believes that they can be embedded in the industry, over time, just as health and safety is now a part of the culture of the construction site in a way that it wasn’t a generation ago. Their five principles are:
- Safety and quality must be the focus for everything in construction - quality products, quality services, quality design.
- Change the mind-set about quality requirements by embedding a culture of quality production. Achieving good quality is not about boxes being ticked; it is about ensuring compliance and exceeding customer expectations.
- Learn from other industries and from overseas, helping to capture, share and encourage best practice and innovation to continually improve quality standards.
- Zero tolerance towards poor quality work; pride in exceeding customer expectations. The importance of a happy customer and satisfied workforce is paramount.
- Prioritise education and training for site quality delivery across the industry, with the introduction of new training and qualifications to allow a focus on best practice in quality management.
Certainly the CIOB has already made a start, not just with this work but with supporting their partner organisations across the industry. The CIOB, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) launched a free-to-download digital tool – the Quality Tracker – a few weeks ago to improve the quality of outcomes in the construction industry. The tracker is now being piloted for the next six months on real construction projects and it is hoped that it will be one of the ways in which a new culture of quality is embedded in the industry.
The forthcoming proposals from the MHCLG on a New Homes Ombudsman could be a significant step towards improved standards. I know that the CIOB is one of many organisations which supported the idea of an ombudsman and offered proposals for how it could work. It’s also a reflection of their values in putting the public at the heart of their service and supporting others within the industry to do so. A New Homes Ombudsman will lead to improvements in the quality of any new homes built; whilst prompt and effective rectification is essential after sale, what is more important is that housebuilders adopt a “get it right first time” attitude. “We all win. Buyers get good quality houses and the industry gets the capacity to build more,” said Chris Blythe OBE, Chief Executive of the CIOB.
In order to raise the profile of the need for quality in the industry, we want policymakers and parliamentarians - those who should understand the importance of the construction industry – to support this work and engage with the industry to make it a reality.
It is essential that policymakers focus on improving the quality of the built environment and ensuring the highest standards are met in all new-build housing.
The CIOB will be hosting a parliamentary reception to discuss improving build quality on Wednesday 12 December (16:00 – 18:00) in the Churchill Room of the House of Commons. To RSVP please contact David Barnes, Public Affairs Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org.