Q28 We now move on to our third panel of witnesses. We are joined online by Peter Caplehorn, who is the chief executive officer of the Construction Products Association, and in person by Dr Scott Steedman, the director of standards at the British Standards Institution. We have 45 minutes, colleagues. Before we start, may I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record?
Good afternoon, everybody. I am delighted to be part of this session. I am Peter Caplehorn, the chief exec of the Construction Products Association. I have held that role for the past two years. I have been with the CPA for seven years, and prior to that I spent 38 years in practice as a commercial architect, involved in technical matters and regulations, and involved with British standards and a lot of building regulation development. I hope that that is of help.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am Scott Steedman, director general of standards at the BSI, which incorporates the director of standards role. In my early career, I was an academic in civil engineering. I then spent around 20 years in industry on major building projects. Since 2012, I have been in the role of director of standards at the BSI, so I am responsible for the national standards body and all British standards.
Yes—when I chaired a Select Committee, I always used to remind everybody that these microphones are purely ornamental. They do not really amplify very much, so projection is always good at these events. I thank our witnesses for being with us today. Obviously we are hybrid. We have Peter online and Scott here in the room, so bear with me. Perhaps we will take this slightly slower to ensure that we include Peter in our conversation. Please just shout at me, Peter, if I have not quite seen that you want to intervene.
We have received a fairly hefty chunk of evidence from a number of different industry players who have set out to us the new regulations, the new technical frameworks and the new qualifications that will affect their bit of the industry, and quite a lot of it is statutory. I was particularly struck by the evidence that we received from the Construction Products Association, which mentioned only a competence framework and a code for construction, both of which appeared to be forms of voluntary “regulation”.Q
I noted that in your evidence you urged us to
“resist the consequent serious danger of disproportionate reaction.”
I was very struck by that because it was a very different piece of evidence than we received from almost every other actor in the sector. I would be grateful if you could set out whether you believe that those voluntary forms of regulation are sufficient, and what a disproportionate reaction would look like in relation to your part of the industry.
What I was trying to do was to set the scene. We fully appreciate and support all the statutory moves that are being made. Equally, I wanted to emphasise that industry and a lot of organisations across construction have also been working in the same direction. Perhaps I did not express the point clearly. It was not a case of saying that the other non-statutory initiatives are more important; it is simply the fact that this body of work is going on. I think that that is really important because the objective is to reform, enhance and have culture change across the whole industry. That is brought about by having good statutory powers, and by having the attention of industry and making it move of its own accord.
On the point about overreaction, I wanted to keep my evidence fairly succinct, to be honest, but I was referring to the issues in the industry with insurance. All of us will be concerned about the various reports in the media about insurance issues, and the impact of those. This has to do with the analysis of buildings. Some are clearly in need of remediation, but a lot have been given that label because the industry has overreacted to things that have been going on with regard to safety.
We need regulation; it is crucial. Way back when we started, there was a strong deregulatory movement, and that was unfortunate; it led us to this position. We need good, proportionate regulation, but there should be an equal measure of activity and seriousness from the industry to ensure that its morals, obligations and ethics are in tune with what we all want. I hope that sets the scene for you.
I support Peter warmly. It is all about standards, including the regulations. We are looking to achieve a generational change in the culture of an industry, and that will be quite a long process. I applaud the work of the Department and the Ministers here, and their engagement that has brought the Bill to this stage, but we are designing a new structure of powers, which will include standards set out in regulation, standards set out in statutory guidance, supporting regulations, standards that will come from industry, and codes of practice used at an operational level. All of those need to be integrated so that they work together as a full ecosystem.
However, in the end, as Peter says—I totally support his point—you need the industry to want to do this. It needs to want to improve. You cannot police it on every nut and bolt; we know of countries where that happens, and it just does not work. If you want to achieve industry transformation, you need the industry to aspire to become better. We have seen that in important areas, including health and safety, where a change in approach has led to significant improvement in the health and safety of operatives on construction sites. This is an even greater task, in a sense. It is all about creating a system of standards, including higher-level regulatory powers and voluntary standards, that lead to the outcome that we want as a country.
Q I am pleased to hear both of your answers; thank you for them. If I may get to the nuts and bolts, we all agree that there has to be culture change—we have heard that from a number of people—and we all recognise that it will take some time. Given your language—you warn of the “danger of disproportionate reaction”—can you point to any specific measure in the Bill that does not go far enough or goes too far, because that is the issue that members of the Committee have to grapple with?
My immediate reaction is that I think the Bill is proportionate, but there is a lot more work to do, and we look forward to working with the Department and industry on the supporting regulations and statutory guidance. They really ought to come along together—that would be very useful—but in so far as we are seeing the approach today, it is proportionate, and I welcome that. I do not think that it goes too far.
I absolutely support Scott in his analysis, which is exactly right. I add that it is important that industry sees that the Government are moving the agenda forward. I can point to several programmes in the past—nothing to do with building safety, of course—where the Government have announced a programme, industry has invested heavily, and then the programme has faltered. I think that is a shame. Many people with a memory of those circumstances will now see the Bill laid out in the way that it is, with all the elements to it.
Again, I reiterate that I do not think it is disproportionate; I think it sets the scene extremely well, and we can all see how we can work from it going forward. In fact, many people have already taken that up, but it is important that this is now a key moment, so that all the energy and effort from industry really get pushed forward. That is crucial.
Are the new regulator, the proposals, the powers, the responsibilities and, indeed, the resources appropriate, and is anything missing from the Bill?Q
There are some points that I think are missing. The regulator role is complex. I think we need a new regulator. In the work that we have done recently on competence standards, it is very clear that there needs to be a regulator. I think that the Health and Safety Executive is the right place to put the Building Safety Regulator. However, this goes beyond a regulator role; it turns into an enforcer role. Part of the complexity of this subject is the risk of creating a two-tier structure where you have structures that are in scope and structures that are out of scope, and a regulator that is regulator and enforcer for some buildings but just an ordinary regulator for other buildings.
I appreciate that building control is supporting this, but on the relationship between the Department and the regulator, in its role as regulator and enforcer for the buildings in scope and ordinary regulator for the buildings not in scope, and where determination will lie if someone is disputing the regulator’s role as an enforcer, that kind of complexity will not help the industry. It needs to happen and we need to work it out, which will take time, but the role as specified is extremely important and well defined, and I think it is being taken up very earnestly. The people involved are extremely excellent. Peter Baker is a well-respected individual, and I think we are in good hands with him.
Again, I support entirely what Scott has just said. To contextualise this a little, one of the issues that has been upon us for at least the last 20 years is the lack of oversight and sanction that Dame Judith Hackitt pointed out clearly in her review, to such an extent that I think the generality of customer practice across the industry was that regulation can be treated with a certain degree of lip service—that we do not really need to focus on the essence of a lot of regulation, simply because nobody will pick up on it and there will be no real sanction.
This is a key turning point in where we need to go, because the industry needs to recapture a respect for regulation and for compliance. The regulatory situation that is mapped out in the Bill starts to address that, but I share the concerns that Scott has expressed over the complexity. We have to start somewhere. To me, there is a bigger question here about how we reform the whole industry and the mechanisms that come into play. At the moment, that is set out in terms of a definition of higher-risk buildings, with different implications for other buildings. We have to look forward to the prospect of a regime that would be the same in addressing all buildings. That would start to simplify some of the current complexity, but we have to start somewhere.
I have four suggestions of areas for improvement. One is a technical matter, but it is extremely important. It is probably an accident, but the definition of designated standards is inconsistent with other statutory instruments. The definition of designation, which is the process whereby a Secretary of State designates a standard to support industry in demonstrating or claiming compliance, has been created since EU exit to reflect the history of the way we do things in the UK. It used to be called citation. The definition of what a designated standard is and the Secretary of State’s ability to designate a standard from a defined body is incorrectly described in the document today, so I would encourage some work on that.
You will see it in schedule 9, which relates to clause 133, on page 198 of the Bill, and the definition there needs to be improved. It talks, for example, about “EU harmonised standards”, but there is no such thing—it does not exist. It is a harmonised European standard, not an EU standard, because the standards written by industry are not written by EU organisations. As it stands, there is no provision at all in the Bill that would allow the Secretary of State to request or designate a British standard from the BSI—the national standards body.
That is just an error or oversight, because if you look at other instruments, such as those relating to product safety and metrology, the definition is carefully written out. I encourage the officials in MHCLG to refer to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy because the text is available. That would be an important clarification and alignment.
We have discussed the point about things being in scope or out of scope. That is something that we will have to work on, because creating a narrative for industry that is consistent and clear will require clarity in that, and we have discussed some of the complexities. However, I am not convinced that you actually can solve it now. We will have to move all these pieces forward together, including industry, so that we can achieve that learning. There are some excellent examples from industry of organisations that are really trying extremely hard, but there is a very long tail as well.
I have also hinted that it is not clear who will do what between the Department and the new Building Safety Regulator. For example, who will oversee secondary legislation, approved documents and changes? Is that the regulator and enforcer, or is it the Department? We need some support perhaps on who the regulator is. The Bill helpfully states that the Building Advisory Committee will report to the regulator, but does the Department need its own independent advisory committee? I am not clear about that.
Those are the four points I want to stress, but the most important one, technically, is the designation definition. We could provide texts, if that would be helpful.
Nodding in agreement, Chair. I would just like to mention two areas. When we start to talk about the new duty holders—principal designer, principal contractor and the building safety manager—there are obviously publicly available specification standards being produced to amplify those roles, and that is important. The origination of the principal designer and principal contractor come from the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, which have been in place for some time and effectively try to ensure risk is managed during the design and construction process, including maintenance, which is often forgotten.
That is an existing set of criteria and duties. They are now going to be amalgamated with the new duties of the same name. I am slightly concerned that that means that individuals and individual organisations will have two distinct requirements placed upon them. What I would not want to see is an undermining of the health and safety issues in place of individuals and organisations focusing on building safety in the round. I think that that is something that needs some work as we go forward and develop the new regime.
The other area that I would like to mention is the establishment of the new gateway system. Again, that is fairly well defined and fairly easily laid out, but we must be aware that every building project that starts from an initial idea and moves through to completion has an inherent natural chronology. It is so often overlooked that the process will follow a natural sequence of events. A couple of times in the current proposals it is as if one thing will always follow directly after another, but sometimes that does not happen. You will get a scheme with planning consent, and then there might be quite a pause before work continues. You might get other intervals in the process. It will none the less still follow the same sequence, but just not as a smooth operation. Again, we need to ensure that the new proposals reflect how those processes go forward.
Peter is absolutely right. That is the reality of the construction sector. Perhaps to the earlier point about disproportionality, trying to prescribe things at this level in rigorous a way is not going to reflect the reality on the ground, and then people start doing their own thing.
To the point about principal designer, principal contractor and building safety manager, we have thought long and hard about that—when I say “we”, I mean with the industry group—and the point was to try to avoid creating new roles and new titles and yet more division among who is actually accountable and responsible for safety through life and in the design and construction. My own recommendation was to stick with principal designer and principal contractor, even though the terms were originally used in the context of health and safety in construction, and in a sense to augment those roles to say that if individuals fulfilling the roles were working on higher-risk buildings, they should have these additional skills and competencies. In a sense, it was not about trying to bang two things together, but saying that someone may be an ordinary principal designer or a principal designer qualified to work on high-risk buildings. Therefore, you have one person and one title, but you may have a different gradation of qualification. That is where it came from, and I do not think Peter is disagreeing with the title.
The issue there is that we fully recognise that this legislation is needed and fully support it, but there is an ongoing conversation to be had with regard to the definitions. We have looked at how you would define a safe product and, indeed, a safety-critical product, and there is quite a bit of work to be done to balance out the needs of the regulations with the practicalities.
To give the Committee an example, if we were to take a sheet of plasterboard, it can be used in many different applications. If it is just used as a finishing element, I would suggest that it is not anywhere near a safety-critical item in most cases. Whereas when that same sheet of plasterboard is used in a compartment wall that is used to fire separate two areas of a building, then it very much is a safety-critical product, so there is that diversity within the product sector.
Equally, some products are clearly safety critical and should be strictly controlled and monitored. We need an ongoing conversation as the team develops the regulations, to ensure that the guidance and, eventually, the list of safety-critical products are clearly usable in a practical sense, and also so that there is complete clarity as we go forward.
It is an excellent question. We have to think of products as forming a system, and sometimes products that are completely safe in one system might be completely unsafe in another. Electrical cabling, for example, might be suitable in one jurisdiction, in one country, but if you mixed it up with electrical systems in the UK you would have a disaster on your hands. So this concept of safe products is very difficult to define, because products really have to be seen in context.
The onus should perhaps be on performance-based criteria, so we look to specify the performance of a product and them to demonstrate that that performance has been achieved, and not just by the class of product but by the actual individual product placed in the structure, ensuring that compliance is rigorous. This concept of shaping performance requirements and then allowing industry to innovate in order to achieve those requirements is very important. If you prescribe every detail—the diameter of everything, the thickness of this and that—rather than making things safe, you actually lead yourself down the path of blocking innovation and stifling progress.
We want to balance all of that out, and the best way of doing that is through performance regulations, with standards managed independently, that are required to be used in safety-critical situations to demonstrate that the products will actually do the job that the designer wants to achieve.
Q This might be a question for the Minister, but do you feel, given how the Bill and the regulations are going, that there will be scope for that wider definition and the performance-based work? Do you think the groundwork has been done and that we can fit around it?
I think there is a lot of work to be done in this area. We have been working closely with the MHCLG team as this has developed, but I still think that we probably need to map out a number of practical examples so that when the regulations eventually emerge we have the right practical answers. That might be in the form of guidance, but it certainly needs a little more development before we have a system that I could vouch for to deliver the outcomes needed.
There are interesting lessons from other sectors. The medical devices industry, for example, faces those challenges the entire time. Whether it is a sticking plaster or a heart device, there is a whole difference in the level of risk, so the way in which that type of product is regulated and the standard developed is another place to look. I agree with Peter that we need to take our time. The architecture of the Bill is there to do this, but there is a lot of work to do in developing the guidance and secondary legislation.
I asked the previous panel this question about construction products, but I should have held it for these two witnesses. By the way, I think that far too much plasterboard is used in homes anyway, and not for safety reasons but just because of quality of life, but that is another issue. The Bill does address construction products and future-proofs for products that we do not yet know about. That is fine, but quite a few historical building failures have resulted from the interrelationship—chemical, physical or whatever—between products that only emerged over time, or that should have been tested in the past. The products are safe on their own but not when put together in a certain way with other products. Could the Bill do more in that regardQ ?
Thank you for that question, because it is of concern and it has been historically, as you said. The Bill as set out does start off in the right place. We have the structure to pursue those issues. In parallel, a lot of work is being done on the quality of testing and on verification of product quality. We are starting a new road that will start to address some of that, but equally, I would raise the move towards greater competence across the industry. Clearly, some product combinations will cause trouble and they can be seen by somebody fairly early on in the process who is competent in analysing those criteria. I would put designers and engineers firmly in that spot.
Some more difficult inherent problems that occur over time are in the province of the testing and research and development areas of product manufacturers themselves. They do a lot on research and development on products because, clearly, it is in nobody’s interest for things to emerge later on that will cause problems. None the less, we do see them.
Back to our central subject of the Bill, it does set out the framework, and I believe that with the secondary legislation coming along behind it, it will give us more opportunity to ensure that products are fully tested in combinations, to ensure that we reduce the prospect of any failure like that happening in future. None the less, it is a challenging arena.
It is important to remember that we are focusing on safety here, and that means human safety affected by a physical object, and not necessarily quality. The Bill will not necessarily transform the quality of the industry—that is a different thing all together. You are absolutely right that if you look at historical failures of engineered structures, in many cases it is to do with communication between different parties involved in a very complex industry and the long chain that Peter described. The failure to understand the consequences of the assumptions of the person who did that piece of work leads to an issue in years to come that people cannot diagnose. There are some very famous examples of that.
Perhaps one of the additional points worth making is on the digital information. New standards are being developed today on digital management of fire safety information, for example, and new tools—there is a BSI identifier tool to allow a persistent and enduring identifier to be applied to individual products, so that downstream, you could walk around a building in years’ time and identify precisely what that was, and if an issue had arisen you would be able to trace it back.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendation on the “golden thread”, the digital trail of construction products and how they are assembled, and the ownership of the building through life management are a vital part of the culture change that will enable a much easier identification of problems in future. As Peter says, the physics is relatively well understood; if people do the right tests, they will find the problem, but sometimes things surface many years on and we want to catch that at the earliest possible stage, to make sure we avoid safety issues.
Q I am particularly interested in the building safety fund. It is not accessible for properties that have social tenants in them. How does that impact on housing associations? I understand that 40% of all social housing built last year was without grant. If the building fund is not accessible, how do they finance it?
I would anticipate that the building is designed, constructed and managed regardless of who the occupants are, or how the occupancy is structured. I would sincerely hope that the outcome of this Bill will be to achieve a building that meets our national expectations for public safety, regardless of who is in it or the ownership structure of the apartments inside. It would be entirely wrong if the Bill were to somehow separate out buildings on those grounds, and I would be very disappointed. I have not seen any evidence of that in this Bill, which is focusing very much on the technical aspects of safety, not on the occupants.
It is about building safety systems, the priorities, and if the owners of properties just put in for any grants that they are eligible for—they are, for instance, eligible to claim from the building safety fund—they are not allocated according to risk. It is allocated based on eligibility, or is available according to eligibility, not risk.
IQ am going to be quite blunt, Dr Steedman, having just listened to the evidence you have given. You mentioned safety and you mentioned culture change, so will the Building Safety Bill as it stands fundamentally improve the building safety regime in this country and change what many see as the corrupt culture that led us to the tragedy at Grenfell?
This Bill gives us the architecture, ultimately—it will take time—to change and improve the culture of the construction industry. The construction industry in the UK dates from around the Napoleonic times: the structures, the people, and the professions that work in the industry date from hundreds of years ago. I do not want to comment on the history or any assertions about the culture, but I am very confident that the structure of this Bill—the way it is laid out, with the supporting statutory guidance—will effect change. However, in the end, it has to be the industry that makes the change, and the industry needs to lead that process. It is no good simply writing it all in a Bill and expecting some magic wand to make it happen. In the end, the industry has to step up.
The outcome of the regulation, including the vast scope of industry standards, will together deliver the culture change, but regulation alone cannot deliver culture change, because you cannot regulate everything. In the end, you have to have a combination of carrot and stick that encourages people to realise that in order for companies and industries to become more successful and have more satisfied clients, they need to behave better, and they need to recognise the importance of safety in their work and the impact of their work on others.
A lot of the work that we have done on the competence standards development—the framework of new competence standards, the PAS standards that Peter referred to earlier for principal designer, principal contractor and building safety manager, and possibly for building control—is about recognising the importance of your work impacting others. Lots of people can do their work, but you can still have an unsafe situation. People need to realise that the impact of your work on others is where a lot of the big risk comes from, so that requires people to think wider than their own profession. This Bill will help us get there.
Chair, I am grateful. I was absolutely going along with what Scott was saying. I would just like to add something, though. If I can take everybody back to the John Prescott summit in 2001 on health and safety in construction, he made the very clear point that the industry needed to change. That was primarily driven by the industry understanding the message and getting on with it. Of course, regulation came along later in the shape of the early Construction (Design And Management) Regulations, but it was very much about the industry understanding the message and dealing with it. Again, I come back to what Scott has just said. This Bill sets out a very good framework and it marks a point of confidence that everybody should be marching in the same direction, but it will require the industry to do a lot of the heavy lifting as well.
I would like to highlight two points that I think have yet to be addressed and are fundamental in our steps to make sure that we get rid of the industry that we have had up until recent times. One is a reform of procurement processes, and the other is a change to the standard contracts that are used to procure buildings across the industry. Dame Judith Hackitt, in her report, identified both as seeding some of the bad behaviours that we have seen, and I think both are in need of work. In fact, that work has started, but it is outside the regulatory framework.
Just to close on that remark about procurement, I would warmly support it. We have not really grappled with procurement as a tool and yet we have standards that go back to 2011 on construction procurement policies, so the issue of procurement and how it is done is a very strong lever to drive behaviours in the right direction.
Q It is the case for both of you that your competencies go across the building trade, yet the genesis of the Bill is residential buildings. Do you agree that the regime should be restricted? You have talked about buildings in scope—we are talking about residential buildings—yet there are fire risks to other tall buildings, including hospitals, student accommodation, care homes and offices, such as the BSI building in Chiswick. Do you think the fact that the Bill mainly focuses on residential buildings will cause problems down the line for the construction industry? We will start with Dr Steedman.
I made a few comments earlier about the complexity of the scope and the risk of a two-tier system. Peter and I both commented that you have to start somewhere; and it is a very high-risk place where you have members of the public living in buildings in multiple forms of ownership. It is a very complex and highly sensitive issue. I think, in terms of somewhere to start, that higher-risk residential buildings are the right place to start, but I have no doubt that over the years ahead the principles laid out in the Bill will enable us to approach other higher-risk buildings and assets and eventually to encompass much more of the built environment.
Absolutely. There is danger in complexity, and we do have to start somewhere, but I see the Bill also laying out reform in the whole of the construction sector. The focus is on buildings in scope, but there are quite a few provisions in the Bill about changing a lot of other aspects of the regulatory framework, and that is really important. I would like to see us moving forward as quickly as possible, actually ditching the higher-risk category and using the momentum, using all the issues that we have discussed in this session, to push forward so that everybody can be clear that all buildings are addressed to the same technical standard, all buildings are safe and all buildings will be proven to deliver the performance.
Can I just add another point? While this is absolutely about safety and, in particular—as Scott said—structure and fire, we have a big problem in terms of climate change and reducing carbon. Buildings in future must also take into account those issues. With all the groundwork we are now putting in place, I would hope that people will be equally—
Order. I am afraid I am going to have to draw your comments to a close there, Peter. I am so sorry to interrupt you; we are strictly governed by the rules here. Thank you so much for the point you were making.
We have come to the end of the time allotted for this panel. I thank the witnesses, who have spent such a good deal of time with us today, providing such incredibly useful information—a huge thank you to both of you. That closes the third of our panels. Thank you very much.