Monday 21 April 2008
The last two days have brought out into the public domain a story on the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) pursuing alleged price fixing cartels operating in the construction industry that has been about for some time.
When APSE first tried to give some exposure to this story about 12 months ago we received a series of veiled threats from a number of parties with vested interests. Therefore it was no real surprise to me that when we issued our press release on the story, where we called for local authorities who find in the course of the OFT's investigation that they have lost out, to recover any loss by all means available, that once again these cheerleaders for big companies decided to try to rubbish us and divert the press from the really story of alleged fraud on a colossal scale. If the OFT allegations are proven then this appears as nothing short of a smash and grab raid on the public purse.
APSE is quite happy to be portrayed as a vigorous defender of the public purse and the Daily Mail, MJ, New Start magazine and many others ran sympathetic stories on our position. Its a pity Construction News decided to accept the spin of darker forces and protect their readerships interest rather than the publics. These same dark forces who are quoted as unnamed sources and industry insiders have the audacity to suggest public sector clients are at fault because they in some way left the opportunity open and it was to irresistible to refuse sticking their hand in the till and helping themselves. If it has taken the OFT four years to get to this stage of the investigation with all its resources how are a group of public sector surveyors supposed to police people who are allegedly meeting in secret many miles away and carving up dubious deals between them.
I suppose it will all come out in the wash of the ongoing investigation, I am happy to take flak for trying to protect the public purse in my view its got to be better than not only sounding like the Lord Haw Haw of the Construction Industry but having the morals to match.
Saturday 12 April 2008
Speak at our Northern Region lunch near Blackpool today on the topic of local government reorganisation along with Dennis Cooper and Mark Hammerton from Eversheds. We have an audience of over 30 and it ends up in a really good debate.
A number of those present have travelled from the North East where Durham County and its seven districts are due to be merged into one new unitary authority. You can almost feel the tension crackling in the air as I carefully pick my way through my own reorganisation experiences from the nineties in Scotland. When I mention some of my concerns about recruitment, culture change, harmonisation of terms and conditions, and how a 'them and us' can develop you could sense that many had concerns of their own as to how the situation now will play out in practice.
I also touched on communication, developing common systems and processes, called for a moratorium on inspection and one of my personal bugbears the lack of an independent staff commission to oversee the process and rule on disputes. I think this is a major blunder and predict that DCLG will come to regret this.
Dennis and myself have different views on the relevance of this but my view is just because the one in England in the nineties was a bit limp it doesn't mean you can't draft its powers differently and make it successful like the one in Scotland was. I guess it comes down to whether you believe that disputes should be settled through a legal process in the first instance or as a last resort!
Tuesday 01 April 2008
Travel up to Aviemore for the Scottish Labour Party Conference where we are exhibiting and arrive late on the Friday night - although this turns out to be worthwhile when I manage to get a chat with Harriet Harman at one of the evening events.
The next day is an early start as I attend the earlybird fringe on public sector reform at 8.30am, which gives me a chance to catch up with an old friend, former Health Minister Andy Kerr who is one of the speakers.
Later in the morning we have a number of senior politicians visiting the stand including Defence Minister Des Browne and in the afternoon we go into the hall and listen to Wendy Alexander speech. To be fair to her she gives a decent performance having had a difficult year and the delegates appear to warm to her over the rest of the weekend. Later that evening she speaks at a STUC event and says all the right things. We end up talking into the small hours with Leader of Glasgow Stephen Purcell and his Chief Whip Aileen Colleran who is also on APSEs National Council. They tell us about some important announcements that are getting made the next morning and its interesting to watch Stephens press team at work over the course of the evening making sure the story on apprenticeships gets into the Sunday press and coverage on the BBCs politics show.