This will be my last voice article for SpecFinish, so it would seem to be a pertinent time for a bit of reflection after seven years in the job. Looking back before attempting to look forward into the uncertain period ahead. This, of course, begs the question: when has there ever been a certain period? There has always been doubt about what is around the corner.
I was asked recently to take part in a podcast about the development of our brand. This was not prompted by my expertise in branding but informed by the experience of our association’s rebranding from the catchy ‘AIS FPDC’ to ‘FIS’. “Did it work?” was the question. Well, we hadn’t given that any recent thought, which in itself was a sign that it didn’t appear to have failed. People no longer comment upon the absence of association or federation in the name and just know us as the FIS. At the last President’s Lunch, I got a number of comments that we finally genuinely feel like a single organisation representing a sector. That is understandable as it wasn’t just the names that were crashed into each other; we sort of barged the two organisations into a vertically integrated model. We represented the supply chain in fit-out in the same way the market operates. Clients do not buy products shrink wrapped on a pallet; they buy them installed.
The rebranding would have been meaningless unless we reflected the brand values in practice. Above all, we needed to identify a sector of Interiors and Finishes and find the common issues. We decided to solve our own problems rather than waiting for someone to do it for us. And we tried to make the sector more professional by developing and updating technical standards and up-skilling our people. We are not there yet, but the path to more professional member companies and a more competent workforce is on track.
At the end of the day, it is our clients who benefit from better quality work delivered to a more consistent standard. It means that manufacturers and contractors should work more closely to achieve those standards. This in itself was a good thing but all too often not valued by clients: price being king, rather than value or achievement of specification.
And then came Grenfell, where the true cost of a lack of competence and compliance led to those tragic losses. In a post-Grenfell world, the demonstration of competence and evidence, and that you have complied, should not be an option as clients, designers and contractors recognise their personal liability when corners are cut. This should hold no fears for good companies as it levels the playing field and rewards those who have invested in the skills of their people.
Perhaps what they should fear is the impact of Carillion’s collapse and Brexit.
Firstly, Brexit. It is widely accepted by all that there will be some pain from our exit of the EU. How bad is contentious, but despite the fact that there were record levels of investment in the UK in 2017, much of that was committed before the vote. Construction investments take time to feed through and new project starts are falling. If a project doesn’t start you can’t do the fit-out.
The reliance on migrant labour will, I’m sure, be addressed to allow workers into the UK, but at what cost in administration and increased liability? I’m sure overall the impact will be muted and not be evident either way for many years. The sun will continue to rise in the mornings.
But surely the true cost of Brexit is the opportunity cost of all the Brexit-related activity. How much time and effort are going into this change at all levels in government and companies? Time is money and time which could have been spent on expansion plans is now being spent on adjusting for the range of possible Brexit outcomes. Let’s hope the benefits outweigh this opportunity cost.
Carillion is another example of short-term pain for potential long-term gain. Immediately companies impacted directly will need to recover but this takes a lot of working capital out of the system. Longer term, we may finally get some payment reform. I might even see Spurs win the Premiership. I won’t be holding my breath on either count.
Finally, a thank you for listening over the last seven years. I’ve made some great friends and had a lot of fun. Good luck.
FIS chief executive