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Sustainability -'the ray of light that we need' says HVCA president

Some 170,000 construction workers lost jobs in 2008, a figure that may rise to 250,000 by 2009's end, but HVCA president Graham Manly told those at the trade association's luncheon, that industry's ability to rise to the carbon reduction challenge could be its 'saviour'.
Sustainability -
Speaking on September 9 at the Tower of London, Graham Manly said that the way construction and its associated industries react to today's difficult challenges will influence the direction of the sector for the next decade.

'Not since the second world war have we seen such a sudden reduction in construction starts across all sectors -especially residential and commercial, although public work is now also slowing down as funding evaporates', he said.

Ray of light

'There is one challenge that is very much the domain of the building services sector and should provide the ray of light that we need over the coming years', he added.

The president acknowledged that the challenge of sustainability and carbon reduction may not be seen by everyone as the saviour of an industry fighting battles to maintain order books, workforces and cashflows which made investment in new technologies seem 'a brave step too far'.

With a government target to cut UK carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, the president said the building services sector 'can have a significant influence on net energy demand within buildings'.

Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for Energy and Climate change announced in July that £3.2bn would be spent on helping households become more energy-efficient and incentivise the use of low carbon technologies for heat and electricity generation in businesses and homes. Commenting on the prediction that this would create £800,000 green jobs, Manly said: 'Let us hope that those made redundant from our sector will be recruited to fill these vacancies, before their expertise is lost to us forever'.

'Onerous' contract conditions and payment terms

Manly also said Lord Mandelson's 10 day payment plan for the public sector 'would have been a laudable concept if only it had applied to every contractor in the supply chain, and been enforceable. The average for many sub-contractors is now nearer 60 days'.

He warned: 'A major concern for our industry is that the unacceptable working practices and contractual arrangements now being re-introduced as a result of the recession will become the norm for our industry for many years after those green shoots of recovery start to sprout again.'

Proliferation of certification

Graham Manly went on to highlight the problem that some businesses had invested heavily in training to obtain certification under various schemes but experienced little uptake because of customers' non-compliance with regulation. The president blamed a lack of enforcement, the 'paltry' scale of penalties and an absence of perceived benefit. A 'proliferation of certification schemes and bodies' he said made matters worse, with firms that offered a range of services having to go through multiple certification which cost time and money even though customers did not seem to value such certification.

'As a result of competition between certification bodies, the maintenance of common criteria for competance is being compromised by some', Manly added. He cited the problem of certification of individuals who are not fully competant and pressures to accept the lowest charges for energy assessments which could result in worthless Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and 'superficial' air conditioning inspections.

Referring to the experiences of HVAC members and 'half-hearted' responses from government, the president criticised the effectiveness of EPCs, mandatory air conditioning inspections and Parts L and F of the Building Regulations, for a lack of 'rigour and vigilence' when it came to inspection arrangements and sanctions that could be imposed for non-compliance.

He said: 'Now is the time to address these issues as we embark on a 10 year programme to ensure that all new buildings will be carbon zero by 2019, a process which will involve three further revisions to Parts L & F'.

To put sustainability on the spotlight, the HVCA is hosting the 'S-Factor' seminar at the HVAC exhibition London HEVAR. Technologies' sustainable credentials will be judged at the Royal Horticultural Halls' venue in Greycoat Street on September 23. To attend click here

Ratner's infamous speech

As if to cheer up audience members and stress that business in the building services industry may not be all that bleak, the HVCA president introduced infamous jewellery retailer Gerald Ratner as the guest speaker. Ratner's tale of how he doomed his own jewelley empire by describing his products as 'total crap', went down well.

The former Ratners chief executive's 1991 speech at the Institute of Directors included the remark that some of his earrings were 'cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn't last as long'. After the speech, the value of the Ratners' group dropped by around £500 million and caused the firm's near collapse. Ratners' message of triumph over adversity to the HVCA audience went on to describe how he managed to claw his way back to becoming a successful jewellery retailer again in a new online jewellery business.
10 September 2009

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