Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan became president of SEC Group on being ennobled in 2005 after having served as a Member of Parliament for over 25 years. He was for a time Shadow Secretary of State for Defence in Neil Kinnock’s Shadow Cabinet.
His first “brush” with the construction industry came when he was chairman of the House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee. He instigated an inquiry in 2002 into the practice of retentions in the construction industry. Appalled at the abuse associated with the practice he took the unusual step of recalling the civil servants in the (then) Department of Trade and Industry to account for their lack of action over the issue. The Committee had recommended that the government phase out the practice “as soon as possible”. All of this marked the beginning of a process which continues to be recognised as an issue to be resolved in the interests of a specialist sector which Martin never failed to promote.
As president of SEC Group he was a regular attendee at Board meetings and his wise counsel was often relied upon in the development of policy. He was a strident advocate inside and outside Parliament for radically reforming the procurement and payment processes in construction which he regarded as antediluvian. In 2009 he launched a report compiled by SEC Group and other bodies representing the specialist engineering sector which concluded that the major barrier to progress in developing a more sustainable industry was the lack of collaboration between key project participants from the outset of the procurement process. This still remains the industry’s primary fault-line. Shortly afterwards Lord O’Neill was chosen to lead the industry’s interface with government when he became chairman of the Strategic Forum for Construction.
SEC Group’s CEO, Rudi Klein, who worked closely with Lord O’Neill for over 18 years said that the news of his death had been deeply upsetting for him and his colleagues.
“The construction industry has lost a Parliamentary champion. Martin fully aligned himself with the challenges faced by SMEs, particularly their never-ending battles to get paid. He was not afraid to speak his mind and hold ministers and civil servants to account for their inaction.”
Trevor Hursthouse, SEC Group’s chairman added that he was extremely saddened on having heard the news.
“Martin was one of those few senior politicians who was well-grounded and respected the interests and opinions of people he worked with. He was a genuine and extremely caring man. He developed a passion for bettering the industry and could always be relied upon to provide sound and informed advice. Our sector will be much poorer without him – all of us who knew Martin will remember the value of his support and be distressed by losing a close colleague and friend.