Clause 6 - Facilitating improvement in competence of industry and building inspectors

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 16th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review identified that competence needed to improve across the built environment sector. It challenged the industry to show leadership and take responsibility for raising competence. The Building Safety Regulator will play a key role in supporting the industry to raise its competence levels. One of the regulator’s core functions will be to assist and encourage those in the built environment industry and the building control profession to drive improvements in competence.

For industry, the regulator is expected to do this by working with the industry competence committee to oversee and support the industry’s work to raise competence. The regulator will set the strategic direction of the committee, to ensure that its work supports the regulator’s plans and priorities and the needs of the sector. It will also carry out importantThe regulator, with advice from the committee, may propose changes to building regulations and/or regulations under part 4 of the Bill to the Secretary of State on industry competence matters. The regulator’s role will also be to increase building safety by improving compliance with building regulations and raising standards in the building control profession.

Through the clause, the regulator can demonstrate leadership of the profession, developing a strategy to increase the competence of registered building inspectors. Exactly how that will be done is a matter for the regulator, but it might produce advice or guidance, or identify areas where it can develop training to upskill registered building inspectors. It may also convene working groups or advisory committees, or commission research and analysis to further inform areas for improving competence.

The provisions will help position the Building Safety Regulator at the heart of industry and the building control profession.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

I was struck by the evidence from the industry experts we heard over the past week or so in their desire to improve and to see improvements, and in their recognition of the fact that Governments of all colours had not brought about a Bill such as this, which is very welcome. Yes, things can be improved, but we will be debating changes as we go along. Does the Minister agree that the regulator may be pushing at an open door when seeking to improve the clause?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I, too, heard the evidence provided to the Committee by a range of experts and industry players. In Parliament and beyond, we have heard from the development sector. If there is an open door, I trust that the Building Safety Regulator will make sure that it stays wide open, and should it ever close, I trust that the regulator will play a role in pushing it back open. It is important that the regulator monitors emerging risks or gaps in competence, surveys the landscape, as we have already identified and agreed, and considers carefully whether further action is warranted or appropriate. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that the regulator works with the sector and the industry and, where appropriate, takes action to make sure that the competence that we require across the sector is complied with.

The clause creates a key and influential role for the regulator to help drive up collective standards. We believe that it is an important clause as we embed the regulator in the Health and Safety Executive and define its role and responsibilities. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Throughout our evidence sessions, we heard a consistent call to improve the culture referred to by hon. Members today in inspections of the built environment. From the Fire Brigades Union to the Local Government Association and the evidence emerging from the Grenfell inquiry, it is clear that a step change is needed in that culture, so clause 6 is welcome.

Concerns have been highlighted, however, about the choice-based competitive environment for inspectors of buildings below the threshold of 18 metres. The LGA recently spoke to me about that, as did Matt Wrack from the FBU. We could still have a situation, which has led to a number of safety concerns and shoddily built buildings, where a developer appoints someone as a building inspector for what is not, seemingly, an at-risk building according to the current definition, who inappropriately gives sign-off to something that should never have been signed off. I seek the Minister’s assurance that that will be reviewed and tackled.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I welcome the aims of the clause, in combination with other clauses. It is right that the regulator is able to review competences. As we heard in the evidence sessions, the one thing we are trying to fight here is the race to the bottom in standards and in how people behave in the industry more broadly.

On the point that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale made, we heard interesting evidence about building inspectors and what they are doing. I found that interesting because my training and background is as a lawyer, and we were always taught that, irrespective of the client that instructed us, we still had an ultimate responsibility for the administration of justice. It was slightly concerning to hear that evidence, because it felt at times that there was not that overarching responsibility. I am hopeful that we can perhaps re-embed that through clause 6.

Irrespective of the debate that we might have about building inspectors and how they operate, and whether the local authority model or the private model works, there is a broader discussion here about where the fiduciary duty will go. Hopefully, clause 6, in establishing that review—that committee—and allowing the BSR to do that can start those discussions again and really look the industry in the eye and say, “What are you doing?” As I say, the evidence we heard was, at times, quite shocking. I am hopeful that clause 6, combined with other clauses, will enable us to have that broad-brush conversation and to review the industry, in order to ensure we have something that works for the safety of residents living in these developments and a gloves-off discussion about how that operates. I welcome this clause, Mr Davies, and it has my full support.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The National Fire Chiefs Council talked about the need for building control independence. We know that things have gone wrong in the past and that there is scope for that to happen in the future with the private sector being involved, as highlighted in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. In its written evidence, the NFCC wrote:

“While there is ample evidence that private sector participation in building control can bring efficiencies, if not implemented correctly such a delegation of regulatory mandate can come with significant unintended consequences.”

I do not believe it is intended to have those consequences but that is what has been said. It continued:

“A 2018 report by the World Bank found private sector participation in construction regulation in 93 out of 190 economies. The report concluded that, for such an arrangement to work as intended, the public sector should regulate private third-party professionals and firms and reported that in 76% of economies that make use of third-party inspectors, regulations explicitly require the independence of third-party inspectors; they should have no financial interests in the project and should not be related to the investor or builder.

The report concluded that private sector participation should be accompanied by appropriate safeguards that favour the public interest over private profits.”

That is the nub of this. The evidence goes on:

“We believe that the change to remove the ability for clients to choose their own regulator, is necessary to apply to the whole of the built environment.”

And that point was made by the World Bank.

I ask the Minister to consider these points.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Committee for its consideration. The point of this clause and of the Building Safety Regulator in it is to drive up competence standards across the building control sector, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West said. We want to see that happen and we believe it can happen. Taken as a whole, we believe that that is exactly what the Bill will achieve. Dame Judith Hackitt was right to recognise some of the problems that the building control system faces, spread as it is, in particular the lack of a level playing field between the different statutory and non-statutory processes, which can lead to a degree of complexity in the system.

As a result of the Bill and its clauses, not just clause 6, we believe we address that problem. We have worked with the whole building control sector to draw up these proposals, both public and private, which have widespread support. I call on the Committee to support the clause in order to help the position of the Building Safety Regulator, and to put that regulator at the heart of the industry and the building control profession competence, to be a key influencer and driver for better competence, regulation and standards. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.