Behind The Built Environment

Behind The Built Environment, a podcast from BESA where we delve into the latest industry news in the building engineering services sector. Join us for insightful discussions and exclusive interviews with leading industry experts, as we explore the trends and innovations shaping the future of the built environment and what impact they will have on you and your business.


Episode 1: Behind Building Control

In this episode, David Frise, Chief Executive for BESA, chats with Lorna Stimpson, Chief Executive at LABC, about the Building Safety Act and its impact on the construction industry. Lorna discusses her background in building control and emphasises the importance of cultural change, competence, and putting safety first. They explore the significance of the Building Safety Act, the need for behavioural change and the responsibilities of duty holders in ensuring compliance.

Episode 1 Transcript

David: Hello, I'm David Frise, Chief Executive of BESA, and welcome to our new podcast, Behind the Built Environment. The podcast where we will delve into the industry's latest news in the building engineering services sector. With leading industry experts, we'll explore the trends and innovation shaping the future of the built environment and the impact they will have on you and your business. Today, I'm delighted to welcome our first-ever guest, Lorna Stimpson, Chief Executive at LABC.

Lorna: Thank you.

David: Lorna's career in public service building control spans over 30 years in roles from building control surveyor up to senior managerial positions. Lorna joined LABC in 2008 as Business Development Director, advancing to Deputy Managing Director in 2015, and Chief Executive in 2019. Lorna has a proven track record in delivering complex projects and strategic reform. She works with DLUHC, HSE, the National Fire Chiefs Council, and Local Government Association as a member of the Joint Regulators Group, defining, piloting, and testing the new regulatory approaches.

She sits on the Industry Competence Committee and the Fire Protection Board. Lorna is a Board Director of LABC, the Construction Industry Council, and the Building Safety Competence Foundation. It's a wonder you've got time to come and see us today, to be honest, with all of that on a busy life.

Lorna: It's a busy time. Busy time for the construction industry generally. Yes, and I think we're all feeling the same at the moment.

David: How did you come into the industry? What was your entry point into this?

Lorna: I became a trainee building control surveyor at 16 and I've never looked back. It's the best career choice. We've just been taking on trainee building control surveyors, and I can honestly say to them that I wouldn't change a thing about my career. The 30 years in building control surveying, probably not quite 30 years, but in building control surveying was just fantastic. Fantastic. I would do it all again.

David: That's good. If you get so senior in your career and you do it all again, then you must have made the right choice.

Lorna: Yes.

David: We'd like to start off all these podcasts with a quick-fire question. Yes or no, if possible to this.

Lorna: Okay, I'll try.

David: Building Safety Act is clearly the dominant thing for you over the recent the last few years. Quite a few of these will be around Building Safety Act. Is the Building Safety Act the most important change in construction in your career?

Lorna: Absolutely. That wasn't yes, was it? I'm sorry. Yes.

David: Even more affirmatively, yes. Does it cover all buildings?

Lorna: Yes.

David: Is everyone in construction impacted?

Lorna: Yes.

David: Will the Building Safety Act result in behavioural change in the industry?

Lorna: It should. Yes.

David: Will the industry be better because of it in five years?

Lorna: Yes.

David: Do good companies, those who are competent and compliant, have anything to fear from the change?

Lorna: No.

David: Great. Thank you. All yes and nos. That was good. An absolutely. That's a huge boost. Could you just start off by just describing what you understand the Building Safety Act is about and why it's so important for the industry?

Lorna: That's a difficult question. Why is it so important and what is it about? It's about putting right the wrongs that we've had for so many years in construction, I think. It is fundamentally about cultural change. I know that is seen as quite a fluffy thing. It's not. It's not something that you can pin down, but it is about people doing the right thing for the right reasons, and consciously doing that. It's about competence. It's about culture. It's about putting safety before profit and a legislative process and framework by which that is the driving force. I truly believe that the Building Safety Act, if implemented appropriately, will do all of those things.

David: To make the building process safer, more certain, would you say, over that period of time?

Lorna: Yes.

David: To drive, we talked earlier, or you answered yes, to behavioural change. It's not just process. It's not a tickbox exercise. It requires people to change the way they operate and view the operations.

Lorna: Without a doubt. I'm obviously heavily involved in building control, and we are at the sharp end of that. Building control is becoming a regulated profession or has become a regulated profession. We're leading that change. I think the work that I do on the Industry Competence Committee as well is about driving cultural change across the whole industry. That's about attitudes. That's about people understanding what the legislation is trying to achieve, and the fact that that legislation is trying to drive safer buildings.

David: I guess with all change of that nature, you get we always divide them into threes. You get 33% immediately get it and change. 33% wait for something to happen and then change. You get 33% who never change. Where do you see us on that spectrum at the moment? I see quite a lot of the top third really going for it. Are we really getting into that second segment yet?

Lorna: In building control, we certainly are because we've had a deadline and we've had to work to it. In terms of construction, I think it will take a long time and a long time to filter down. The driver for this change was Grenfell, the Grenfell tragedy. That was what? Seven years ago now. Dare I say it, the impact fades from people's memories. If it's not something that's in your mind all of the time. It is obviously in ours because I'm working closely with the building safety regulator and DLUHC as part of this programme. We live and breathe it every day. Other people can be forgiven for not having been touched by the implementation yet.

I think the whole idea is that, gradually, over the years, this new way of working, the cultural change that we've talked about, the behaviours will start to trickle down throughout the industry. Construction is an unusual industry, and I think it will take some time. It's also a massive spanned industry, isn't it? I think we were talking earlier and you said something about from the shard to the shed. That is construction, isn't it? That is the massive breadth of construction. How long is it going to take for these new behaviours to come down to those people working on the shed?

It's going to take a long number of years, but it will happen. I'm very sure it will happen, whether it will be in my lifetime or career. I don't know, but it will happen. Or [crosstalk] determined.

David: I guess my career will end roughly the same time as yours. I would really like to have seen something happen by then. I was at an event last night at the Tower of London from the mechanical contractors, Vonterio. They held their conference in London, and their president said that they counted the number of cranes in London alone. It was over 100. They were staggered by the amount of work going on. Are you concerned about the resources available to planning and building control departments to actually deliver that, so they're not delaying the whole process?

Lorna: I don't think there will be any further delay than there ever would have been. capacity and local authority building control. Will we ever have enough people? I don't know how many is enough. I don't know, but certainly not impacting on delays to construction. The registration of building control professionals has now gone through that process, and we continue to work towards full implementation. What we're also doing within LABC, with massive support from English and Welsh governments, is to bring new recruits into building control. We know that we were an ageing profession. We know that there was a lot of people in the latter end of their career at this moment in time in building control.

We've been very, very conscious to bring in as many new starters and trainees into building control as we possibly can. We've done that over the last 12 months. We've taken on about 130 building control surveyors, and we continue to do that with government funding. Whilst we're losing people at the top end of their careers to retirement, as we would naturally, we're bringing people in at the bottom end to replace them, and to backfill those more experienced people that we're losing. It's all about the training. It's all about competence and building that professional network again, which is something that's very much part of our strategic direction.

David: The press will always focus on negative stories because that's what people want to read, by and large, you don't need to hear the good news stories. How useful is the three-month delay announced by government to building control officers complete that registration process. I'm assuming you agree with that decision to delay?

Lorna: I wrote to the building safety regulator and Welsh Government to request not a delay but an extension and that's what we've been given an extension to the deadline. Just to allow people to go through the process. I think what perhaps industry don't generally understand is it isn't just a registration process. Building control surveyors have got to prove their competence as part of that registration so through an independent company organisation. LABC's organisation that we set up some time ago the Building Safety Competence Foundation is gaining UCAS accreditation in 17-024 to be able to assess the competence of building control surveyors.

The surveyors have got to go through that really rigorous process to get their proof of competence before they're able to register. It's not a simple registration process and that three-month extension to the deadline that the BSR Welsh Government gave six months extension to the deadline. Very much welcomed by the industry and by LABC because it has given us that opportunity to get more professionals through this process. The building control professionals, they're willing they are ready and able, and going through that programme as we speak.

I think come July and in October for Wales, we will have the vast majority of current building control professionals registered in the system and practicing as registered building inspectors.

David: We represent mainly tier two contractors although they typically can now do more than half the work on a project but tier twos and below. They're very time-strapped there's I think still a lot of confusion in the industry about what's covered and how it's going to impact them. As a tier two contractor, what do you think they need to know and what should they prioritise in the way they operate in the future?

Lorna: I think it's fair to say that many people who aren't involved necessarily directly in HRBs so higher-risk buildings think that maybe the Building Safety Act doesn't impact on them. It does and the legislation has changed, and anybody who has an impact on a building whether it be a subcontractor the main contractor, they're what is now called duty holders. They have a duty to do their work in a certain way, and most of that is about competence and knowing their abilities. Whilst that might not necessarily have filtered down to your members yet, they are duty holders. That duty holder role doesn't just apply to HRBs the tall residential buildings it applies to every piece of construction.

Whether it be a kitchen extension or the shards, there are duty holders, and that duty holder isn't just the main contractor or the principal designer. The principal contractor principal designer it's everybody who has an impact on that building, or on that design. They are dutyholders, and they have responsibilities. Part of that responsibility is to understand their competence. Now, maybe at this moment in time, there isn't a requirement for them to prove that competence or be on a register. They are expected to understand their competence and their sphere of competence. The grey areas around what they are competent to work on what they have.

Competence, let's forget is about skills, knowledge, experience, and behaviours, and so it's not just about what you learnt in a book. Have you worked on that type of building before? Are there things that you don't quite understand, and it's your responsibility as a duty holder to understand where your skills, knowledge, experience, and behaviours lie.

David: Interestingly today, we've got a meeting in Rotherwick House which is where our offices are to discuss competence and the apprenticeship for ductwork. We've got 40 ductwork contractors coming in to do that. I guess the point I'm getting across here many of those competencies haven't really been fully defined yet. How long do you think the industry has to get that in place so that there's something to define competence against so someone who has a duty of care can understand what competence looks like?

Lorna: I think that many professional bodies, many organisations are already going down that route that you're starting to go down now. I think it's absolutely the perfect time for these disciplines, quite unique disciplines to start to understand what good looks like. I think what you're doing is what needs to happen, but that can only be done by the industries themselves. You can't tell building control what good looks like in building control if you're not from a building control profession. It's the same with your members.

It's for them to decide what good looks like and start to as you say develop the newcomers into that industry with that blueprint of what good looks like in a competent person in your industry. That can't be done to you that is for industry to do it themselves and that shows a mature industry.

David: Well, that's what we're trying to develop. We've operated competence assessment standard for 25 years, and it's only now just beginning to come into its own. That's because it's third-party accredited. Crucially also ask the question that many PQ processes done this, is that can you do the job? Which seems bizarre that we've never. We've asked, "Have they got insurance, have they got policies in place?" The question about, "Are you actually competent to do the job?" Never comes into question.

Lorna: No, and that's the difficult question, isn't it? That's where culture comes in, that's where behaviors and ethics comes in. Have you done this before? If you haven't can you find out how to do it? Are you competent to work on that scheme, so absolutely, your question is perfect. Can you do the job, not just do you want to do the job?

David: Is the price right?

Lorna: Is the price right, yes.

David: Many people have suggested that it's the end of value engineering as it currently exists, which is a euphemism for I need the price cut. Do you see that ending with the Building Safety Act really beginning to bite?

Lorna: I think it depends the extent that you're going to go with value engineering. If you're impacting on safety, then yes, it's the end of value engineering, but that should have never have been a thing. Value engineering shouldn't be to reduce something from compliance to non-compliance by using substandard materials or substandard labor that should not be a thing. It's about quality, isn't it? Value engineering no, I don't see personally, there's no reason why you can't do things just as safely or compliant or as compliant, but maybe a little bit cheaper, but not when you're compromising safety and standards. Absolutely not.

David: Many people have also questions about when it will really start. I think I use the term when will it really bite, and many people are suggesting that we need some prosecutions, and then people will go. Now we'll take some notice. How long do you think we are away from-- The industry fully understanding the consequences of the Building Safety Act.

Lorna: I think as you say until people start to be prosecuted, people don't sit up and notice. I don't think the HSE who obviously the building safety regulator is formed within the HSE. I think we all know that they don't stand off from prosecuting when they need to. If it needs to happen they will serve their notices.

David: Pre-Grenfell, I guess I'm pre the Building Safety Act. There was always I felt the perception in the industry that if building control didn't spot something or Clarkworks, for example, then we've got away with it. Actually, the building I live in that was the response of the developer that well, building control signed it off. There was always the perception that building control was somehow fully responsible for things and not able to do things properly. How is the industry responded to that?

Lorna: That was absolutely the perception before. It was never a fact. It was always the responsibility of the person carrying out the work to comply with the legislation. Building Control are there to secure compliance, if they see non-compliance, to do something about that. Things haven't changed, but now what has changed across the industry is that there will be an expectation for that principal contractor to say that they have complied with the legislation. That is their application for completion. Entirely changed, turned on its head.

The perception was wrong before, but what the legislation has done is made it clearer that it is the duty holder's responsibility to comply. Just because Building Control didn't happen to pop onto site when they were doing something inappropriate doesn't mean to say that they could continue to do something inappropriate. Again, it comes back to culture and behaviours. Why is that okay? Just one, we've been interviewing recently, and I have said this before, but we were interviewing recently for trainee Building Control surveyor. One of the questions was about integrity. What does integrity mean? Obviously, that question is because for Building Control or anybody in our industry, you've got to have integrity.

One young person, their answer to me was integrity is doing the right thing even when no one's watching. That was absolutely perfect. I think if the whole of the construction industry used that or just kept that in the back of their mind, then we would have a safer construction industry, we would have a safer built environment. Integrity and ethics is the thing for me.

David: Would you advise our members to have evidence, a full bank of evidence of how they have complied with the package of work they've done at the time?

Lorna: This isn't meant to be something that is difficult or hard to do or an imposition. This is just proving that you've done what you should do. In the same way, with Building Control surveyors now having to prove competence and register with the regulator, that's not about doing something different than they've done before. Dame Judith, in her report, was really clear. She wanted proven, measured competence, not just I say, "I'm competent or I passed an exam 30 years ago and therefore," this is not anymore. The construction industry is not, pass an exam once, practice for life.

I think that that's got to be the same for every part of our industry. You've got to keep up to date. We know that construction products alone change so often. It's such a massively innovative, area that how can you stand still? That constantly keeping yourself up-to-date is part of being a built environment professional and so very important.

David: Lorna, just to summarise what we've heard today to make sure that I've fully grasped this. The Building Safety Act is the key legislative change over the last few years. It affects the whole industry. I think we said the shard to a shed, everything and everybody. It requires cultural change, ethical behaviours on a scale that we haven't seen before and people need to do the right thing. I think we say even when people aren't watching you, it's for the industry to decide competence, what competence is, and indeed, I guess, what compliance is from that.

That tier two contractors or our members should always evidence their compliance, have a record of it for the future. It's your responsibility to provide that evidence. Nobody else is going to do it for you. Certainly, not building control.

Lorna: No.

David: I think we've reached the end of our time. I've got one final question and that is really, do you leave or are you currently optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the industry?

Lorna: Optimistic, but that's because it's Thursday. If it was Monday, maybe not. No, I'm definitely optimistic because I can only see good things. It's been difficult. There have been some hard decisions. There will be hard times coming for the whole industry. We've got to be better as an industry. We've got to be better. I think that we will be.

David: Lorna Stimson, Chief Executive at LABC. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Lorna: Thank you

David: Now to industry news. This is the week that T. Clark were acquired by Regent Acquisitions for £90.56 million, taking them from a public company back into private ownership. Interesting comparison with the failure of MJ Lonsdale recently. There's still plenty of flux in the market and some consolidation, no doubt, to come. Having just interviewed Lorna Stimpson from LABC, it's interesting to note as well that the Grenfell inquiry has been further delayed, and we will see when that finally gets published, and the impact that has.

In BESA news, BESA are very proud to be the competition partner for refrigeration and air conditioning, along with Mitsubishi and Refcom. The national finals will be held in November, with the WorldSkills finals being held in Shanghai, China. BESA have also launched TR19 Air, along with complementary courses from our approved suppliers. That is an opportunity to evidence your competence and compliance, as we discussed earlier in the podcast. In Scotland, new build heat standards have been introduced, which came into force on the 1st of April.

Finally, I had a letter published in the Financial Times, which you've no doubt all read, about boiler pricing strategies and the consequences of government consistently changing policy at the last minute. A quick reminder that we operate, as BESA, the competence assessment standard, a three-part standard business management review, a technical audit, and organisational capability. Which is UCAS accredited, which is your opportunity to evidence to those duty care holders your competence and compliance. Crucially, we ask the question that many PQ processes don't, is can you do the job? On that note, thank you and goodbye.