Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660 - 679)



  Q660  Mr Chaytor: Will it be?

  Sir John Egan: I am hoping so, but I am not sure whether it is. It was taken out of my hands and other people are doing it. I would also like it to be a centre for interchange of experience. I would also like it to be expert on one particular area which is how to listen to people and how to sell high quality solutions to them. When it comes to, how do you get all these difficult things done, they are the same world-class skills that you require to run any big difficult organisation. They are the world-class skills of communication, of leadership, of vision, of process improvement, of project management and so on. These are the world-class skills but they will be absolutely homed in on a particular thing which is achieving improvement in sustainable communities and I think there will be a particular expertise and language of its own growing up around this. I think, in a way, the whole agenda of Government's relationship with communities and with local government could be spelt out in this sustainable community agenda. I said right at the beginning when I first spoke about it that it is not often that governments come up with big ideas or with good ideas but this one is rare indeed because it is a big, good idea.

  Q661  Joan Walley: Can I press you a little further on how it is going to come about. You mentioned that it would be linked to one of the big universities.

  Sir John Egan: I hope so.

  Q662  Joan Walley: Which university do you have in mind?

  Sir John Egan: There are a number that I think could do this very well. I would not like to mention any one in particular but I would like to see a university which is noted for high quality research. Can I just go into this a little deeper. I think that universities should spend far more time working with business and other representatives in their local areas. They should learn how to do research for the good of various kinds of people and there is nothing more important than the local community in which they live and I think they would get a huge sense of belonging to a community if they worked more closely with them and nothing is more important than planning the future prosperity of a community. So, I think it would be very, very important that we see how well it could be done.

  Q663  Joan Walley: Are you talking about a virtual national centre of excellence?

  Sir John Egan: Both. I think it should have a physical presence and it also should have a virtual presence as well.

  Q664  Joan Walley: My fear is that many of the areas where regeneration is most needed would tend to be areas away from the south east and away from where all the emphasis is and, in a way, they are the ones which are least best represented to be part of ongoing developments and perhaps are the ones who have most to gain from going about things in a different way and in an innovative way and in a fresh way.

  Sir John Egan: I do not think we are talking about one community here and just one university. Every university in the country should be working with its local community to help plan the future prosperity of that community. We should be turning these great big brain boxes actually into use for the local community. It does not really matter where the centre will be as long as it is connected to a very good research university and there are very good research universities in the north of England as well as in the south.

  Q665  Joan Walley: What about in heart of the country? I am just thinking of the Advantage West Midlands promotion yesterday on connectiveness and really looking at innovation in terms of the rest of the country.

  Sir John Egan: There is no question in my mind that one of the excellent ones would have been, for example, Warwick University.

  Q666  Joan Walley: What about North Staffordshire?

  Sir John Egan: It was not the one that first came to mind!

  Q667  Joan Walley: No, but it might come second to mind! Can I just ask you now about the lack of skills. How much do you think that the current lack of skills to which you have referred to deliver this whole agenda could be a limiting factor? Plumbers who do not understand about electricity or project managers who simply do not exist or house builders who do things the way they have always done them because they have not realised that the world and the opportunities have changed.

  Sir John Egan: That is not the key skill. The real key skills are to do with developing vision for an area and a plan of how to get there. That is the key thing that the local authority has to be able to develop. It seems as though some people can effortlessly do this and, when you actually talk to the people who have created the huge changes in places like Manchester and Birmingham, you can see why things have happened. The men in charge did actually have vision, they had drive, they had energy and they got the job done and that is the kind of thing we are looking for, but they got it in by buying in, they got everybody to buy into their vision and these are the world-class skills of leadership and that is more of what we need.

  Q668  Joan Walley: Much of those skills, as I think you mentioned earlier, have been linked to the city centres, the very high profile regeneration and investment and they have not been about communities where people live and homes where people go to doctors' surgeries and go to schools. They have not been about the places where people live, they have been about where businesses wanted to invest and wanted to be able to get a lot of profit out of what is happening.

  Sir John Egan: Increasingly, that is happening certainly in Manchester and Birmingham, so I think they have spread. It is interesting. I think the first thing to do is to get the prosperity going, get some growth there and that is what they concentrated on first, but they are into now developing the cities and especially places for people to live as well, but they started on prosperity which I think was the right thing.

  Q669  Joan Walley: You do not seem to be emphasising at all the day-to-day skills, the construction skills, the awareness that is needed in environmental sustainability in terms of the way construction goes ahead.

  Sir John Egan: Come on! We did not decide to put the retail centre here and the business centre there and the hospital there and the schools over here and the houses over there. Those were not clever things. They were just very poor thinking of the whole programme. We did not need brilliant architects to make such huge mistakes. Those huge mistakes were the lack of vision of the local authority leaders. They did what was easiest. They zoned it all because it was easier to do it that way.

  Q670  Joan Walley: Or maybe they just answered to the tune of big business because they were the only—

  Sir John Egan: I do not think they were dancing to anybody's tune. They were simply dancing to the tune of whatever came next. Somebody asked for planning permission for a retail centre, so they gave it. Somebody needed to put a hospital somewhere, so they did it. That is not what the sustainable community requires.

  Q671  Joan Walley: I am getting to the detail of how the new buildings are going to be built; what about the construction skills? Are you saying those are not important?

  Sir John Egan: They are extremely important and I did spend a lot of time writing a report on how to achieve world standards and it is relatively straightforward. It is not impossible, it is relatively straightforward as long as you have the will to do it.

  Q672  Joan Walley: Given that there is a will to do it, where are Government falling down?

  Sir John Egan: Unfortunately, the Government still spend too much of their money on lowest cost tendering which means that you get a random group of people coming together to build a one-off project and some departments cannot be shaken away from this. The PFI projects themselves are also won on a lowest cost tender basis or tendering basis and you cannot build complicated buildings in this way. To know what a building costs, you have to design it before you know how much it is going to cost. You cannot guess at it. So, you have to create your team before you start construction and that is the one thing the Government generally speaking do not do.

  Q673  Joan Walley: How is that going to change? Are we going to lose this opportunity that we have?

  Sir John Egan: It is of great annoyance to me and of great sadness to me that we are going through this huge construction programme where we will probably be very little better at building hospitals when we have finished than when we have started because the programme has not been well designed.

  Q674  Joan Walley: Why has your report not been able to influence that?

  Sir John Egan: I do not know. It influenced Tesco and it influenced BAA and it influenced all of the private builders because they do it but the Government are only haltingly getting there.

  Q675  Joan Walley: Is it the ODPM's door that you are knocking on?

  Sir John Egan: No. There is no point knocking on his door because he does not spend the money. You have to go to the departments which spend the money, which are health and education at the moment. I have spoken to both Secretaries of State and I must say that one of them did actually understand what I was saying.

  Q676  Joan Walley: Which one?

  Sir John Egan: Alan Milburn did understand and he did make Procure 21 which is a very large step in the right direction into a national programme.

  Q677  Joan Walley: Is the NHS not exempt from the Government's policy in respect of procurement?

  Sir John Egan: No, nobody is. Procure 21 is a sensible step in the right direction and many buildings are being built with that system, but I would like to see all Government departments embracing the Rethinking Construction report and I think they would save a huge amount of money if they did.

  Q678  Joan Walley: What do we do when half of the chartered civil engineers are expected to retire in the next ten years and looking at the number of people who have been through British universities at the moment? Is that going to lead to the same kind of problems that we have with the recruitment of GPs or other professionals? How are we going to overcome that?

  Sir John Egan: I can now speak with a career of 40-odd years in business and I have seen so many scare stories about shortages of this, that or the other. I can say two or three things. We always seem to find enough people in the end.

  Q679  Joan Walley: Was it not your evidence-based review of skills/your report that actually alerted us to this shortage?

  Sir John Egan: Yes. I am trying to give you an answer. Eventually, we will find ways of recovering the problem but there is no problem right now. Right now, there are enough, as it were, to do the job that is being done today. If we could only do it much more efficiently and stop having developers putting five or ten plans in on the same project because of the infrastructure changes or that they do not know what is going to please the planning committee, then indeed we would not need quite so many people. What we do today is extremely inefficient and much of the time and effort is wasted.

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