CIC Blog

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Central Government Procurement Policy on Social Value

Claire Louise Chapman
Managing Director
The Shared Value Business

Not for the faint hearted this one: Crown Commercial Services: Procurement Policy Note 06/20 Social Value in the Award of Central Government Contracts.  With 1st January came the central government requirement that Social Value is to be applied to all new procurements.

So, what does this mean in practice? What is being required is that social value is ‘explicitly evaluated’ in all central government procurement – this includes central gov departments, their executive agencies and non departmental public bodies - 573 distinct organisations in total. It’s anticipated that £49bn of public spending annually will be potentially affected, impacting every market government buys from.

‘Explicit’ evaluation means that commercial teams within these organisations must select social objectives which are relevant and proportionate to their procurement activity, and a minimum weighting of 10% of the total score should be applied.

A Guide to using the Social Value Model has been created, and a set of Themes and Outcomes for Social Value is annexed to PPN06/20. So we’re not short of guidance but this is pretty new stuff for everyone, both for those who are commissioning social value, and those designing tender responses and ultimately responsible for delivering social value.

In a nutshell, the ‘Themes and Outcomes’ sit within BIG headings, like ‘Fighting Climate Change’. Activities are then suggested that organisations can deliver to address these BIG issues.

In practice though, Social Value should be relevant and proportionate to the type and value of contract activity. So, the first challenge is for the procuring team to decide which Themes and Outcomes are relevant for the contract they are tendering, the second challenge is for those responding to tenders to decide which activities will add the most social value, are deliverable, and will differentiate them from competitors.

Understanding the macro environment that you work in is vital. For public procurers that will include a socio-economic assessment and/or an assessment of demographics based on the specific social priorities of your department, cross referenced against Themes and Outcomes priorities (and discussed with internal clients for their opinion of what ‘good’ social value related to their area of activity looks like).

For businesses on the other hand, it’s about understanding how existing and new operational processes can add maximum social value without completely reinventing the wheel for each new contract.

I spend much of my time working with clients to help them understand how to structure Social Value activities to work to their strengths. Yes, this is going to require new ways of working, but most organisations are surprised by how much ‘unstructured’ Social Value they already deliver.

The key, frequently is in structuring, recording and communicating this activity for both commercial and community benefit. Successful contractors will demonstrate both an understanding of Social Value, and a project plan and process for delivery of social value activity which will be monitored and evaluated for impact.

Contributor: Claire Louise Chapman is a Social Value Consultant, supporting any organisation to respond to Social Value now required within government contracting.
Claire Louise Chapman FICRS | LinkedIn

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A bloke like me

Ray Bone
Managing Director - ABBEY
President Elect - The Association for Project Safety

My name is Ray Bone. Some of you may know me and be familiar with the Association for Project Safety. I’m the next in line to be the association’s President and I’ve been working in design and construction risk management – the APS’s core purpose – for longer than my youthful good looks would have you believe.

I’m known to be a straight-talking sort of person and I’m not going to beat about the bush when I say the construction industry needs to step up and we all need to take better care of one another. The industry’s not got the best reputation for looking after its people – despite all the work and good intentions across the country. It’s high time we got a grip on mental health in the workplace as it’s probably killing more people than falls and accidents and breathing in dust put together.

There are things in life that’ll give you nightmares long after they’ve happened. I was a fireman for nine years before I came to work in construction so, maybe, I know more than most about how people react in macho industries where you don’t want to look like a softie in front of your mates.  

We all had ways of coping with the things we saw – the camaraderie was great and black humour was common. But, for some, there were destructive distractions too. It’s all too easy for that single malt helping you sleep grow into a bottle-a-day dependency. The online flutter at four in the morning - after you’ve witnessed the death of a child - turn into an addiction that puts your home at risk. And the continual stress of call-outs and casualties tip into depression. I’ve seen many people go down those roads - and it’s not always the guys you think who’ll suffer.

Mental health is a difficult topic to broach, especially in a sector - like construction - where there’s an imbalance of men working together, people are often away from home for long periods and no one wants to appear weak. And it’s not like construction has the world’s best reputation for its work practices – I get involved with loads of investigations for the HSE and, believe me, I’ve seen the lot.

But - bad practice apart - the enemy is, mostly, within.

My old employer, the fire service, is brilliant at offering help and counselling – people just aren’t so good at taking it up. There are times when saying no to help just makes you your own worst enemy. Take if from someone who once spent a very dark night hunting for the head of a man decapitated in a car crash: I’ve been there. We’d all sit around when the counselling was being offered - trying to look like we were sleeping right and eating properly - and, right there in front of our crew, we’d all say we were doing fine.

We were lying – to our employer, our colleagues, our families - and to ourselves.

That’s why, when I was asked to host the APS’s Spring conference Building the future of workplace mental health I jumped at the opportunity. I know what’s it’s like to turn down support when I needed it and I am determined to speak out now – especially after the year we’ve had – to do what I can to help others - and to help businesses spot the signs of someone struggling before, as they used to say in the adverts, a problem becomes a crisis.

APS would like to invite you to come along to Building the future of workplace mental health on Wednesday 12 May 2021.  

The APS’s first ever one-day mental health conference is going to take a very positive look at it all. If it makes it any easier it’s online so no one - except our booking system – even needs know you’ve come along. Anyway, it’s not going to be gloom and doom. APS is bringing together people from construction to talk about what‘s worked for them and to hear from people running successful programmes that offer a beacon of hope for people in crisis.

APS is putting on the event with Mates in Mind and we’ll have someone there from the Lighthouse Club so you can see we are serious about getting people all the help that’s out there. You’ll also hear from experts dealing first-hand with some of the things that tip people over the edge – specialists in addiction recovery and debt management. And you’ll get it direct from people who have survived the worst the industry can throw at them - and survived not just to tell the tale but to help us all improve how we work.

Mental health problems can happen to anyone. I know it can be awkward to start those conversations but, if we would just spend a fraction of the time and energy that goes into the splints and bandages, the pills and the potions, we’d all be better off. Poor mental health – and the practices that get us there – can be as bad for business as they are for the workers. But think about it: no one is immune – even if most of us are now vaccinated. If a bloke like me can open up, then we have a real chance of building a better future for workplace mental health for everyone.

Contributor: Ray Bone is Managing Director of ABBEY and the Preseident Elect of the Assosiation for Project Safety (APS)

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Unsocial networking: The missing art of debate

Chief Executive Officer
Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors

Last year, the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES) became aware that several surveyors had quit social media because of abusive comments, direct messages and unsolicited images they had received following posts about their work. We spoke to our own 2040 Forum for early career members about this, and they confirmed that it was an issue many of them were facing.

CICES works closely with Get Kids into Survey, which has a global network of volunteer survey ambassadors who go into schools to talk about careers. By sharing these initial anecdotes, we soon learned that this was a widespread issue. Both Get Kids into Survey and ourselves were concerned that these experiences were becoming a barrier to entry and a reason for leaving an essential profession that already faces a skills crisis. It could also be a potential factor in the poor mental health that many construction professionals battle. We knew we had to do something, but what? We did what any good surveyor would do when faced with this kind of conundrum, we would measure it before we could manage it.

We developed a survey with the aim of working out how much of a problem we were facing and if there were any patterns in the abuse. We also wanted to garner views on what the roles of employers, professional bodies, social media platform owners, the police and government are. As interest grew, Women in Property in the UK, the National Society for Professional Surveyors in the US, and Association of Consulting Surveyors in Australia offered their support and shared the survey with their members, meaning that we were now looking at the experiences of the wider construction professions.

We received 231 responses. Of those, 51 (23%) had received abusive or negative (not constructive) comments on posts about their work. 32 had received abusive direct messages. 30 had received inappropriate images. While 146 respondents had never blocked anyone, 12 had blocked over 25 accounts, and one person had blocked over 200. 30 people had taken a break from social media after negative experiences. While the survey figures established that there is an issue, what had more of an impact were the comments that people made. Some of the experiences we heard about were frankly appalling.

There were surprises. The first being that some were questioning why a professional body should be carrying out such a survey. We were accused of interfering with free speech, which was ironic considering one of the fundamental roles of an institution is to ensure that there is active, illuminating and constructive debate about professional issues.

Another surprise was around who was more likely to experience abuse online. We had expected the majority of abuse to be aimed at women, but there were many men who were being impacted. Again, it was becoming clear that this was all about the art of respectful debate. Debate should only ever be about the issues, not the individuals – and that is something we seem to be sadly losing sight of.

It’s very easy to blame social media for the way people conduct themselves, when there is a lot of extremism today in society and politically. How some people express themselves on social media is symptomatic of this and I believe as a society we need to learn to respect ourselves more. We are facing huge challenges, and the built environment is at the heart of a lot of those, particularly climate change. We are going to need debate to test a variety of ideas to get that best outcome and we all have a responsibility to help that debate develop in a professional way.

What can a professional body do about this? The first step is to be active in the right way on social media ourselves. We need to encourage training and development for members around how to use social media effectively and represent themselves professionally on platforms like LinkedIn, and also to understand the impact of what they are posting.

We can also play a role developing guidance for individual surveyors and employers, so they know there are steps they can take when faced with abuse. Professional bodies are also employers, and we have to be alert to the public perception of what is being said about our employees and organisation. As well as reputational damage, these things can take a person’s confidence away entirely, and we need to be mindful about how we support employees facing online abuse – when aimed at themselves or the organisation – and look at what lessons we can learn from those situations. 

One respondent commented ‘most people are great’ and it is important we don’t lose sight of that.  We cannot forget that social media can be a positive tool. It is certainly here to stay. That huge talent pool we want to attract of all genders, races, social backgrounds – all of them use social media. It may be through who we encourage, who we follow, what we learn, but we will need to use social media to attract them to a profession that is full of vibrant ideas and exciting debate. None of us can afford to exclude talent, there is not enough around.

Unsocial Networking, the report from CICES and Get Kids into Survey is available online by clicking here.

Contributor:  Ann Allen MBE FRICS is the Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES)

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Tackling Diabetes Safety

Kate Walker
Chief Executive & Founder
The Diabetes Safety Organisation

Diabetes affects 4.6 million people in the UK and poses health and safety risks that many individuals and companies do not recognise. As an organisation we have set up the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter to ensure the safety of staff, the correct personal testing under DVLA regulations are adhered to and also to help companies comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act.

I am delighted to announce that the Construction Industry Council (CIC) have agreed to endorse the Charter along with, Diabetes UK, IOSH, Light House Club, and Gowling WLG. 

Most people have heard about diabetes as it appears regularly in the press these days but far fewer people have taken the time to truly understand the condition and know the impact it can have on individuals, colleagues and companies.

What makes diabetes a safety risk?

  • possibility of a hypoglycaemic episode
    • sudden loss of consciousness
    • acting as if drunk
  • lack of sensation in feet while driving machinery
  • impaired awareness
  • impaired concentration
  • impaired balance or co-ordination

There are two main types of diabetes

  • type 1, which develops when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. The cause of this is unknown.
  • type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and develops when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin the body is making is not being used properly.

Individual health risk from diabetes

  • blindness – diabetes is the leading cause in the working population
  • erectile dysfunction - 75% of men suffer from this at some point
  • amputation - 170 a week in the UK
  • increases risk of a heart attack
  • increased risk of a stroke
  • premature death - 500 people die a week
  • diabetic kidney disease

I am often asked, ‘why diabetes and not another specific health condition?’ The short answer is that diabetes poses not only a health and safety risk to those with the condition, but also a risk to others at work from those who are undiagnosed or not managing the symptoms. The evidence shows that there are 700 new cases of type 2 diabetes a day, that’s 1 person diagnosed every 2 minutes. There are 1 million people living with type 2 diabetes who do not know they have the condition with a further 12.6 million at high risk of developing diabetes. Surely, our aim should be to make a significant difference to people’s lives and staff safety using clear awareness campaigns, in a non-judgemental environment where everyone is able to talk openly.

As an organisation, we work with the international law firm Gowling WLG on all legal aspects of our work and they recognise the serious risk diabetes can pose to a company. "The law places a duty on all employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that their employees and anyone affected by what the business does, are not exposed to a risk to their health safety or wellbeing. Diabetes is a condition which gives rise to risk and therefore needs to be carefully assessed and controlled. Failure to do so could have tragic consequences and criminal implications." Andrew Litchfield, Partner, Gowling WLG.

Implications at work

  • increased time off work for those not managing their condition or those undiagnosed
  • increased risk of accidents
  • not being compliant with the Equality Act
  • not providing appropriate places to test or take injectable medications
  • not complying with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act

In the UK, the DVLA have strict guidelines in place for people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 who need to take insulin. The DVLA states, ‘people on insulin must check glucose levels no more than two hours before driving, followed by repeat tests during breaks for every two hours of driving.’ This helps prevent the risk of a fatal hypoglycaemic attack without imposing blanket bans as many people have their diabetes under control.

This simple measure ensures greater safety across the UK’s road network. However, these measures do not apply off road, for example, on sites, in warehouses, on production lines and on private land. I would argue that some of the largest and most dangerous machines are used in these environments and yet no safety measures for those with diabetes are applied. In our charter we encourage the adoption of this simple two hourly testing for all workers with diabetes on all types of machinery irrespective of location.

Despite the stark facts, the good news is there is much that can be done to support people living with diabetes and ensure workplaces are safer.

What can be done:

  • increase awareness and understanding of the condition
  • educate those in high risk roles
  • provide a non-judgmental environment where people feel they can talk freely about their condition (there is still a stigma about type 2 diabetes being associated with being over weight)
  • provide an appropriate place to test and take injectable medications
  • promote glucose testing according to DVLA regs for off road workers
  • ensure specific up to date diabetes safety risk assessments and safe systems for work are in place
  • encourage the one less challenge to promote healthier lifestyles

Diabetes is a manageable condition and for many at high risk of type 2 diabetes, it is preventable with early intervention and lifestyle modifications. Diabetes currently costs 10% of the NHS budget, £14 billion a year. What is the cost to your company, both in human and financial terms? I encourage you to sign up to the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter and help make a difference to those living with diabetes and ultimately save lives.

Contributor: Kate Walker is CEO and founder of the Diabetes Safety Organisation. She is passionate about helping people with diabetes and provides support for companies to increase safety in the workplace.


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Better?  Greener? Faster? It must be safer

Graham Watts OBE
Chief Executive
Construction Industry Council

Sean O’Neill’s excellent opinion piece in The Times (‘A building free-for-all would betray Grenfell’, Jan 7) is a timely reminder that the PM’s exhortation to ‘build, build, build’ a recovery from the economic impact of coronavirus must not just be ‘better’, ‘greener’ and ‘faster’ but – above all else – it must be ‘safer’.

The news that the Report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is unlikely to be made until after the fifth anniversary of the tragedy is understandable given the delays caused by coronavirus but it must not become an excuse for inaction in terms of making people safe (and feel safe) in their homes.   The two government-funded programmes for remediating unsafe cladding on tower blocks started late but they are now well underway and a Building Safety Bill – fully supported by CIC and others in the construction industry – is due to enter parliament shortly.  The HSE will host the new Building Safety Regulator and we are urging the early creation of a ‘shadow’ regulator in anticipation of the legislation being approved by parliament.

There are two major systemic issues that have to be addressed by the industry and its clients.  The first is competence.  It is absolutely essential that everyone who works on high-rise residential buildings – and, in my opinion, on any building where vulnerable people sleep – has an enhanced level of competence to be able to perform their work safely as part of a competent team.   Organisations representing the construction industry, the fire safety sector, the built environment professions and the owners and managers of the building stock came together in 2017 to develop a framework of higher level competences, across all sectors, which have been published in two reports – Raising the Bar (August 2019) and Setting the Bar (October 2020) – and it is vital that all sectors implement the recommendations of these reports, which are being backed by a new national suite of standards from the British Standards Institution and in the proposed Building Safety Bill.

The second issue is a combination of the “Race to the Bottom” that typifies the procurement of construction  and the appalling business model of a contracting supply chain industry that mostly works on low profit margins and does not receive full payment until long after the project is completed.   This sets the scene for gaming the system, poor quality, product substitution and many other bad practices and it is a system that must be overhauled. 

Grenfell was a dreadful fire tragedy.   There have been many other instances of building failure in recent years that have concerned structural safety, for example, but where – thankfully – no lives have been lost.    The industry must take action now to improve the competence of its people and to eradicate the reasons for these failures at source.      

This is a full version of a letter published in The Times on 8 January 2021

Contributor: Graham Watts is the Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, a Member of the MHCLG Industry Response Group and Chair of its Competence Steering Group.  

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Is starting a professional career in Construction and Engineering still possible in the Covid-19 era?

Becan Lawless has a First Class Honours Master’s degree and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manchester

The year of 2020 has been characterised by many hits to the global economy, an unprecedented extent of uncertainty and some of the highest levels of unemployment in recent memory. It also happens to be the year that I finished my PhD, ready to go out into the business world and start my engineering career. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has not quite taken off in the way I had hoped. In this post I wanted to provide a bit of anecdotal insight into being a recent engineering graduate who is struggling to find an employment opportunity and reflect on some of the things that are helping me keep going. 

The number one adjective this year for me has been “frustrating”. I feel that I have built up my skills and experiences enough to be capable of a job in engineering, but out of the 100+ applications I have sent I can count the unprompted responses I have received on one hand. These include rejections. When I have pushed recruiters for feedback the general consensus has been that I do not have sufficient engineering experience for the advertised role. And no, the engineering I did for my PhD doesn’t count; I checked. 

I happily acknowledge that previous direct experience is required for many jobs. The issue as I see is that in 2020 the only jobs that exist are the ones for people already within the industry. For an employer this makes sense as a less experienced hire brings a higher degree of risk. I finished my PhD in May 2020, and after some considerable effort I was able to find professional engineering employment in July 2020. Two and a half months later I and some colleagues were made redundant - last-in first-out. Meaning, it has been a tough year even for those who are already within the industry. 

So I know first-hand that there is plenty of difficulty and risk for many companies who want to make opportunities available. Despite the short-term risk reduction, however I also worry that this hiring freeze will lead to a generation of engineers being turned away and moving to other career paths. I’m strongly considering it although I’ve been working towards a job in engineering for eight years. I also can’t help but feel that an erosion of the acceptance of ‘transferable skills’ in favour only of direct experience will lead to the talent pool becoming more brittle, and for my own sake I have to hope this attitude doesn’t run too deep or graduates like myself will remain locked out indefinitely. 

Considering this I currently have three goals for myself:

  1. Maintain direct goals that I can actively work towards - In the absence of a job, my biggest enemy has been my own lack of motivation. I have lost entire weeks to this monolith. It’s an uphill battle, but each project I undertake with a clear endpoint has helped me commit to something productive, and each small success has motivated me to keep trying a little bit longer.
  2. Keep to a routine - This year has been out of the ordinary for everyone and for many people (myself included) this has broken down the routines that help structure the day-to-day. In the absence of a job it is very easy to let the days blur together. Anything you can do to add structure to your day or week is a success. I have found that if I can commit to something significantly ahead of time I find it easier to achieve. If I decide if I want to exercise five minutes ahead of time I usually will pick not to. By committing myself to certain times every week I remove the momentary decision and am far more likely to stick to the positive routine.
  3. Keep applying - This may seem obvious but on reflection I have been trying less and less to find work as the year has dragged on. While it does feel like an unpleasant chore, there is no path to employment that doesn’t involve this step. While to me it may be Application No. 105, to the person reading it is Application No. 1. I have to keep putting the hours in and eventually I will find the employer who decides to take me on.

I am mindful that it is useful to reflect on my own position, and the position of others. While my situation is challenging, I am by no means alone. There are first year engineering students who are socially isolated and stranded away from family and friends at home with remote learning. People have been displaced from their jobs. Empathy is surely a crucial part of the path to recovery.  

Contributor: Becan Lawless has a First Class Honours Master’s degree and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manchester

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How competent are you?

Graham Watts OBE
Chief Executive
Construction Industry Council

Is our industry fit to make buildings that people are safe to live in? I have worked in construction for 40 years and for all but the last three of those, I would have scoffed at the question. But, since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I share the concern of hundreds of thousands of residents in high-rise residential towers across the country who no longer feel safe in their beds.

The evidence that has been given to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in recent weeks has revealed an industry that was complacent and seemingly unaware of crucial safety issues. It has also typified the industry’s broken business model, which has encouraged a careless race to the bottom in terms of winning work and one that has gone unchecked by a building regulatory regime that stops well short of control. The Grenfell Tower fire has brought all of this into the sharpest focus but there have been many other failures in fire and structural safety that have thankfully not had a tragic outcome.

While the industry must take responsibility for its own failings, recent governments are also culpable. An obsession with deregulation that stretches back 40 years had its apotheosis with the coalition government and its bonfire of the quangos (the nascent National Tenant Voice and The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit organisation were among 106 abolished bodies). The rampant pursuit of deregulation has progressively emasculated the building control profession. In my dealings with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government prior to Grenfell, the officials responsible for building regulations were metaphorically side-lined to a broom cupboard somewhere in the basement. Building safety was never discussed in meetings. Complacency ruled everywhere.

In reaction to Grenfell, the government has created and progressively enhanced a building safety programme over the past three years, populated by public servants who genuinely care about eradicating unsafe materials on buildings and, spurred on by the reforming zeal of Dame Judith Hackitt, we are at the cusp of a radical new regime to govern building safety as signposted in the draft Building Safety Bill, published in late July and currently subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.

It is clear that competence for working on higher-risk buildings has been lacking across the construction industry, the fire safety sector and among those who own and manage these buildings and this failing was properly identified by Dame Judith in her seminal report Building A Safer Future. It is a challenge that has been accepted by all these sectors with over 150 organisations forming an alliance, the Competence Steering Group, the extent of which has never previously been seen, with a collective aim to develop a new framework of competences for those engaged in designing, constructing and managing higher-risk buildings. This covers engineers (including fire engineers), installers, fire risk assessors, the fire and rescue service , building control surveyors, building designers (including architects), building safety managers, site supervisors, project managers, procurement officers and those engaged in the product manufacturing sector.

It has been my privilege to chair this group for the past three years and our final report, Setting the Bar, was published today (5 October). It sets out the competence requirements for all these roles and recommends the development of a suite of national standards to underpin this work, specifically for the key dutyholder roles of Principal Designer, Principal Contractor and Building Safety Manager. The latter function is entirely new and so the CSG has created a blueprint for this new profession in an aligned report (published simultaneously) entitled Safer People, Safer Homes: Building Safety Management.

In this instance, the CSG is in the enviable position of publishing a report with recommendations that have already been adopted because the BSI has started the process of creating the Built Environment Competence Standards; and the draft Building Safety Bill is proposing the establishment of a Competence Committee within the Building Safety Regulator.

Setting the Bar is just the end of the beginning to create a robust system that requires enhanced competences for working on, and in, higher-risk buildings. It is now down to the industry to develop the means of acquiring and evidencing those competences and every sector should be doing that now; not waiting two more years for the legislation to pass. It is also incumbent on the government and the new regulator, which we know will be housed within the HSE (and I welcome that decision), to create the arrangements that will require all those working on higher-risk buildings to be appropriately competent to do so.

At present, the draft bill proposes to leave that checking to the dutyholders. I worry that will encourage a blurring of the robustness required with “grandfather rights” and so-called “equivalent” credentials being offered to undermine the strength of the regime. The CSG would much prefer to see a more transparent and tangible registration process, the more statutory, the better, which anyone (residents included) can check.

Setting the Bar is just one small step towards rebuilding public trust in our industry. Improving the safety of those living in higher-risk buildings is just a start. It is in everyone’s interests to continue that journey to make every building safe and for everyone to feel safe inside them.

Contributor: Graham Watts is the Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, a Member of the MHCLG Industry Response Group and Chair of its Competence Steering Group.  

This was orginally published in Building Magazine 

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Planning for the future: challenges of introducing a new Infrastructure Levy need to be addressed

Tony Crook, Emeritus Professor of Town & Regional Planning, The University of Sheffield

John Henneberry, Professor of Property Development Studies, The University of Sheffield

Christine Whitehead is Emeritus Professor of Housing Economics, London School of Economics

In this blog Prof Tony CrookProf John Henneberry and Prof Christine Whitehead share their initial reactions to the government’s proposed reform to the planning system in England and warn that the new system could potentially turn out to be as complex as the current one and risk delaying urgently needed new homes.

The government is proposing a fundamental reform in England to a system that has evolved step-by-step over many decades and which has managed to raise significant funds for infrastructure and affordable housing – £7bn agreed with local planning authorities via S106 and CIL in 2018-19.

This note sets out some of our initial impressions. The consultation is now underway and many of the obvious concerns may well be addressed in the final design of the proposed new system. We hope so because the one thing we do not want is a reform which slows development and takes years to settle in as was the case when fundamental changes were made to the current system in 1990 (S106) and 2007 (CIL).

The government’s core objectives, that are easy to support, are to reduce complexity by moving from a discretionary to a rules-based system and to ensure local community agreement. The most important mechanisms by which these are to be achieved include:

  • replacing the current individual planning permission system with three predetermined zones (growth, renewal and protection) together with planning in principle or presumption in favour of development for individual sites in the first two zones;
  • replacing the current mixed negotiation and tariff system where developer contributions are determined at the local level with a nationally fixed and mandatory levy; and
  • basing that levy on the projected gross development value from each site and enabling the local authority to borrow against the identified sum to provide necessary infrastructure and affordable housing.

The policy paper/consultation document concentrates on the vision of what the new planning system framework will look like and what it can be expected to deliver – but almost inherently provides limited detail on exactly how that vision will be fulfilled and how the transition is to be managed.

A second consultation paper, which has had relatively little coverage, answers some of these questions. It sets out how housing numbers at the local level will be determined centrally; how the First Homes policy, which is to be prioritised in the delivery of affordable homes, will be introduced; how S106 affordable housing requirements will be reduced on sites up to 50 units, and extends the Permission in Principle regime to larger sites. New Permitted Development Rights also came into force on August 1st and a new conflated Use Order is in train. Some of these powers can be further extended through statutory instruments.

Instead of further developing the existing system (as modified), the government wants to move from the current approach to developer contributions, whereby developers are expected to contribute to the costs of infrastructure related to their developments (so as to make the development acceptable in planning terms) and to the provision of new affordable homes to one based on taxing the market value of the approved development directly.

The government’s preferred option is a mandatory Infrastructure Levy (IL) on the market value of all new developments with the tax rate fixed nationally (shades of Planning Gain Supplement?), but collected and used locally. Apart from a lower value threshold (below which no levy will be liable) to avoid the IL threatening development viability in weak markets, there will be limited exceptions for custom and self-build and permitted development will be liable for the levy (unlike the case with S106).

In both cases, the costs/levy charged to the developer is expected to be passed on to the landowner. Under S106 and CIL this is an indirect consequence of requiring developers to meet specific costs not an explicit tax on land value. Under the new system, we are to move to a direct tax on the value of completed development, paid by the developer at the point of occupation with the expected value of the levy determined at planning permission. This contrasts with previous tax-based attempts to capture land value (TCPA 1947; Land Commission Act, Community Land Act, 1975) that focused on taxing land development value not gross development value and were paid by landowners. The government’s expectation is that the new approach will produce more tax than the current S106/CIL system and so land values should, in principle, decline more compared with the current position.

The value of the levy on an individual site will be agreed at permission based on expected values but paid when the completed development is occupied. Planning authorities will be able to borrow against the agreed sums, presumably so that infrastructure can be paid for and completed as development proceeds. Hence new school places (for example), could be completed in good time for the new residents to move into new homes. Developers of housing sites above a threshold will be required to contribute to new affordable homes and provide them on-site (although commuted payments will be possible – as now). The costs they incur in providing affordable homes will be netted off from their final levy payment to the local planning authority.

All of this has the potential to be an improvement on the current system, cutting down on the uncertainty and drawn-out negotiations and potentially raising more money because it relates to the value of the development, not to the cost of required contributions. But no evidence is provided on the likely take.

So what is not to like?

There are going to be several challenges all of which need to be widely addressed and debated during the consultation period. Our initial list includes:

  • The issue of viability has not gone away but simply relates to the scale of the levy. Indeed, it is the justification for specifying a value threshold below which the levy will not be charged. But the national levy will not take account of the wide range of site-specific circumstances, especially if the costs increase and the value of completed development turns out to be less than projected at planning consent thus depressing developer margins. This is likely to produce many exceptions to the ‘national average’ rule. The government’s suggestion if this happens is to ‘flip’ from affordable to market homes to fund the levy income required; hence the affordable element will take the risk of market volatility.
  • Fixing the levy percentage will be complicated and subject to a great deal of political pressure: too low and not enough will be collected; too high and development will not proceed (especially if landowners withhold sites because the levy impost presses down too much on land prices); lessons from the three post-war attempts to tax development values are not encouraging.
  • A national rate and the value threshold have consequences for regional imbalances (remember the levelling up agenda?). Since the values of completed developments are much greater in London and the southern regions of England than elsewhere, LPAs in these areas will have greater capacity to benefit and fund their infrastructure needs including schools, doctors’ surgeries, highways and to ensure biodiversity net gain is realised in addition to securing new affordable homes. All of these will be more difficult to secure elsewhere.
  • The first call on levy proceeds is to be affordable housing because the costs of the affordable provision are to be netted off from the levy payment. What is ‘leftover’ will be used for all of the infrastructure required but this ‘residual’ may not be sufficient to pay for all that is needed. The government states that it expects at least the same numbers of new affordable homes to be provided and in the transition, the proportions of new affordable homes on new developments (including the new First Homes) will remain as of now in each local planning authority (but with First Homes taking priority). However, in practice LPAs may find themselves juggling between affordable homes and infrastructure in deciding what the levy can fund, as they do now with S106 and CIL.
  • If LPAs borrow against future levy receipts in order to ensure infrastructures goes into sites when needed, this will reduce what is available to spend from the levy as interest charges will be incurred. This is made worse for development projects with a long time scale when inflation on costs will bite into what can be funded by the levy value agreed at permission.
  • The government suggests retaining cost-based Mayoral CILs but this risks returning complexity to the system and any such levies will need to be fixed in ways that take account of the new levy (and vice versa).

Our initial reactions suggest the proposed new system could potentially turn out to be as complex as the current S106 and CIL systems with much potential for the kind of challenges, on legal and valuation grounds, which beset the three post-war attempts to tax land development values directly. In addition, the new system will take time to introduce and bed in whilst the transitional arrangements for affordable housing and First Homes have the capacity to reduce affordable output. Meantime landowners and land promoters will be pondering on the implications of what is proposed for the value of their land and whether or not to put it on the market and bring it forward for development by seeking planning consent under the current and proposed systems. These proposals risk delaying urgently needed new homes not the least at this time of recession when homebuilders are working hard to get new homes built.

Contributors: Tony Crook is Emeritus Professor of Town & Regional Planning, The University of Sheffield. John Henneberry, Professor of Property Development Studies, The University of Sheffield. Christine Whitehead is Emeritus Professor of Housing Economics, London School of Economics.

| Filed in Blog
Toilet talk 2

Kevin Wellman
Chartered Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering (CIPHE)

In 2019 (remember then, an innocent time?) I wrote a piece on the run up to World Toilet Day, inspired by the CIPHE’s Love your local lav campaign. Back then things seemed dire, with the steady de-funding and closure of public lavatories affecting swathes of our society, particularly women, young families, the elderly, the disabled and those with medical conditions.

My argument was that public toilets are a necessity and not a luxury, providing dignity, independence and safety. Importantly, provision of these facilities strengthened the local economy by increasing footfall. Most of all, they greatly enhanced people’s confidence and wellbeing. Further, that public toilets allowed some of the most vulnerable in society, plus those with young children and medical conditions, the freedom to leave their homes and undertake everyday tasks, without the fear and indignity of being caught short.

That was in a pre Covid-19 world and those arguments are only reinforced by recent experience, with the need for public facilities having never been so apparent.

Public toilets and Covid-19

We’ve all now had a taste of what isolation at home feels like and for many of us it has been a challenging experience. Empathy with those who find themselves in this position, simply down to a lack of public toilets, is surely so much easier to find.

Simply following official public health advice means frequent hand washing is a high priority for keeping everyone safe from coronavirus. Add to this a fragile economy and a drive to get the public spending money on the High Street again, and the argument for councils to provide much needed public lavatories rings clear.  

When lockdown restrictions first began to lift, those of us re-emerging from homes to visit shops, pubs, restaurants and local tourist hot spots, found ourselves hitting toilet troubles when nature called. With a large number of public toilets closed, the scarcity of accessible, clean and hygienic lavatories led to widespread reports of people urinating and even defecating in public.

While some facilities have started to reopen, a lack of provision to enable safe toileting and frequent hand washing, highlights a grave public health issue. This is why closing toilets down must not be considered a cheap and easy option. Of course, a lack of loos impacts an already struggling economy too, as people hitting the high streets inevitably limit their time away from home.

The sad truth is that, following on from decades of underinvestment, this was all so predictable. According to the British Toilet Association, pre-lockdown councils in England had on average 15 operational public toilets per 12,500 people. The BBC also found that at least 673 public toilets across the UK have ceased to be maintained by major councils since 2010. 

Worryingly, some high street and tourist destinations now have no operational public toilets at all, previously relying upon good-natured local businesses to open their toilets to the public. However, with coronavirus restrictions in place, companies are far less likely to admit non-customers, especially when facing management of social distancing regulations and restrictions on how many can come through the doors.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of society and the need for citizens to act collectively for the good of others. Amongst many things to be learned from this experience, I hope that government at national and local levels will change its approach to public services and facilities, not least of all the good old-fashioned toilet.

Flip ‘n’ flush

Toilets also hit the headlines during lockdown as new research was released looking into the spread of coronavirus, germs and other nasties via toilet plume.

While it has been generally accepted that toilet plume - tiny droplets and aerosol particles released into the air due to turbulence caused by flushing - offered a small risk of transmission of illnesses, it was always thought that for the healthy and those with good hygiene, it would pose few problems. Then coronavirus struck.

According to current evidence, coronavirus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes. Airborne transmission is possible via aerosols, as is faecal–oral transmission. New research by Yun-yun Li, Ji-Xiang Wang and Xi Chen, Can a toilet promote virus transmission? From a fluid dynamics perspective, warned that 40-60% of toilet plume particles could reach to a height of 106.5 cm above the ground - well in excess of the height of a toilet seat - enabling the spread of particles on nearby surfaces. During computer simulations, particles could also stay suspended in the air long enough to be breathed in post-flushing.

While a proven case of transmission of the virus via the risk identified in the research is still to be established, we should take all measures available to help stop the spread of coronavirus and other illnesses such as staphylococcus and E. coli. That’s why the CIPHE launched its flip ‘n’ flush campaign, urging everyone to close the toilet lid before flushing, to remove any associated danger of toilet plume. Needless to say, this should always be backed up by vigorous hand washing routine. Those wanting to be ultra-careful, can also then clean the toilet seat before it is used to further reduce the risk of potential infection.

Changing Places

Buried in the Covid-19 news cycle, there has been some good news. Disability rights campaigners have been celebrating changes to the Building Regulations, as Changing Places toilets for severely disabled people become compulsory in new public buildings in England from next year. Additionally, a £30 million fund will be opened to install Changing Places toilets in existing buildings, while the Department for Transport, in partnership with Muscular Dystrophy UK, has also announced £1.27 million to install 37 more Changing Places at service stations across England.

The new facilities will join the existing 1400 Changing Places across the UK, creating larger accessible toilets, (12m2) for severely disabled people, that include equipment such as hoists, curtains, adult-sized changing benches and space for carers.

It is hoped the amendment to the Regulations will help 250,000 people by adding truly accessible toilets to more than 150 buildings a year in England, including supermarkets, shopping centres, stadiums, cinemas and arts venues.

This is a real win for the disability community, with regulatory changes that will aid some of the most vulnerable in our society. Those with disabilities should not have to battle to find facilities that enable them to leave the house with dignity. It is encouraging to see the Government is committed to acting swiftly on this issue.

| Filed in Blog
Making Buildings Safer

Graham Watts OBE
Chief Executive
Construction Industry Council

I have heard some commentators say that the government’s 331-page draft Building Safety Bill is insufficiently detailed (because it awaits secondary legislation) while others have argued that there is too much detail proposed for the primary legislation, which will then be difficult to amend once enacted.   The balance between primary and secondary legislation needs to be carefully considered to ensure that there are no delays with these much-needed reforms.

The draft bill expands upon the scope proposed by Dame Judith Hackitt in Building A Safer Future by bringing the height of the multi-occupied buildings to be covered by the new Building Safety Regulator down from 30m to 18m (or six storeys, whichever height is reached first).  It seems clear that the intention is for this to be an achievable beginning.  Once embedded, we can expect the new regulatory regime to be extended to multi-occupied dwellings, perhaps down to 11m; and possibly to other buildings, lower in height, in which vulnerable people sleep.

As Dame Judith argued - and as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has shown - improved competence is essential to the achievement of buildings that are safe and in which residents feel safe.   It is has been my privilege  to chair the Competence Steering Group, an alliance of more than 150 organisations across all sectors concerned with fire and structural safety and the ownership and management of higher-risk residential buildings, which has recently published its final report, Setting the Bar, establishing an overarching competence framework underpinned by detailed competence specifications across twelve occupational sectors (such as Fire Engineers, Installers, Fire Risk Assessors) accompanied by a detailed implementation plan and around sixty recommendations to achieve change. 

This works faces back into the sectors where the changes must happen; and also as a benchmark for the new committee on competence, to be established by the Building Safety Regulator, which is to hold the industry to account.   It is essential that this does not just mean the “best getting better” and that the age-old culture of “race to the bottom” is not still enabled by a lack of teeth in the final legislation.   There must be no backdoor ways into persuading dutyholders of the competence of those that they engage.

The draft bill’s proposal to establish six dutyholders is a big step forward to counteract a “pass the buck” mentality but the devil will be in the detail and this will need to be carefully monitored in the primary and secondary legislation.  Although not intended as a dutyholder (since that role will be occupied by the “Accountable Person”), the new regulated role of Building Safety Manager creates an entirely new profession and the CSG has published a second report, alongside Setting the Bar, entitled Safer People, Safer Homes: Building Safety Management.  This is an essential blueprint to the context, role and responsibilities of the BSM.  There are several factors that will need to be addressed in order to transition to the new regime and the availability of sufficient competent people to fulfil the necessary role of the BSM on every building in scope to the new legislation will be key.

Three years after the Grenfell tragedy, people are right to continually question what is being done to make sure such a dreadful conflagration never reoccurs.  It has been a long and difficult journey and many decisions have been arrived at too late (not least in government support to remediate ACM and similar cladding on existing buildings) but the beginning of a new safer regime for buildings is now before us and it has to be grasped and pursued with vigour by everyone who can make a difference.

Contributor: Graham Watts is the Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, a Member of the MHCLG Industry Response Group and Chair of its Competence Steering Group.  

This article was orginally published in FIRE Magazine