Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 699)



  Q680  Chairman: I think I am getting this. These one million homes that you are very keen to see built are not only for foreign investment bankers and Australian barmaids, but they are going to be for Bolivian civil engineers.

  Sir John Egan: And waiters. Bolivians will come too, I am quite sure. By the way, if you are the richest country in Europe, you will find that there is no shortage of any of these things. Everybody will come along. Also, as soon as kids realise that planning leads to being the chief executive of a local authority and that is one of the most exciting jobs you could possibly be doing, everybody will want to be planners.

  Q681  Joan Walley: Perhaps we could start by having more graduates and apprentices inside local authorities as newly qualified graduates because there are very few of them at the moment. I think there are only one or two local authorities that actually do that.

  Sir John Egan: Again, let me bring you back to one point. I think that the urgency of what we have to do means that all of these million people will have come by the time we have trained some of these people through universities. We stressed in my report that much of what we are going to have to do is teach people on the job. We are going to have to train people who are in the jobs to do a better job. That is one of the absolute fundaments.

  Q682  Mr Chaytor: Your report, Sir John, is called Skills for Sustainable Communities but the conclusion you come to is that really the essential shortage of skills are the high level management skills.

  Sir John Egan: Yes, essentially. We will not know about the shortages of the others until we can straighten out the process that is going to be efficient.

  Q683  Mr Chaytor: Someone coming to the report to start with might have expected to get a set of numbers of how many plumbers, architects, town planners and electricians were needed and how they were going to be trained in the next five or 10 years. Given you are taking the visionary long-term approach and given you are focusing on the National Centre of Excellence, it is going to be years and years and years and years and decades before this cultural change that you argue for has come about, by which time the million people will have come and maybe gone back again?

  Sir John Egan: They might. They will be here by 2010.

  Q684  Mr Chaytor: How do you reconcile the urgency of the Government's building programme with the rather relaxed long-term visionary approach to development of management skills in your report? Do you think there is a mismatch in the title?

  Sir John Egan: No. We are going to have to train the people who are currently doing the work. For example, when I was running BAA, we looked at all of the people working on the sites at Heathrow, all the construction people. There were 6,000 people from various contractors working on various jobs and, of the 6,000 workers doing all this construction, only 2,000 of them were trained to do what they were doing. The other 4,000 were not trained to do what they were doing. So, we put in place a passport for the future system where every single skill that was required in construction was a page in the passport and you did not get your page stamped until you had passed the course to do it and we arranged for all of the contractors to teach their people on the job on our sites. Today, everybody on all the BAA projects is fully trained and that is only five years later. You can do this if you have the will to do it.

  Q685  Mr Chaytor: But the National Centre of Excellence is not going to be responsible for the on-the-job training of plumbers, electricians and town planners in Thames Gateway, is it?

  Sir John Egan: I think the town planners will be very much influenced by what is going on in the centre, yes.

  Q686  Mr Chaytor: What about the other skill shortages? You are not making any recommendations.

  Sir John Egan: I think they can all be resolved by people simply doing on-the-job training for their people. That is what they have to do and they can do it.

  Q687  Mr Chaytor: So, you do not think there is an overwhelming problem?

  Sir John Egan: No. There are overwhelming problems with people in the market doing these things but, if we insisted on them being done, they would be done.

  Q688  Mr Chaytor: Can I just shift tack a little and ask about the north/south issue. You have quoted some of the successes of the regional cities in the north in terms of their urban regeneration but this has, as Joan Walley said, been very much city centre based in Manchester and Leeds. There is less evidence of success in regenerating the outer urban areas. What do you think about the north/south divide because your focus is that London is the key driver of the United Kingdom, one million people are going to come to London, those who come have to work in the centre of London and the transport network is not geared up to that—

  Sir John Egan: No, that was not the focus of the report.

  Q689  Mr Chaytor: No, but this was the focus of your evidence this afternoon. You are putting a lot of emphasis on this.

  Sir John Egan: Because I am helping the Deputy Prime Minister with his Thames Gateway project. So, some of the examples I have raised are to do with the Thames Gateway.

  Q690  Mr Chaytor: Do you think, as a consequence of the Prime Minister's emphasis on Thames Gateway and other parts of the south east, this is going to exacerbate the general economic divisions between north and south?

  Sir John Egan: No, I do not.

  Q691  Mr Chaytor: And suck people from the north, particularly the brightest young graduates from the north, into the south east?

  Sir John Egan: No, they are not going to be sucked. They will want to come because of the wealth and prosperity of the south east.

  Q692  Joan Walley: Why do we need to suck them away from their own communities?

  Sir John Egan: We are not going to suck them, they will go of their own volition. They will go wherever the wealth takes them, I imagine, if they are bright and smart.

  Q693  Mr Chaytor: This is the thrust of my question. Would it not be more sensible, in terms of national policy, to have less emphasis on developing the existing strengths of the south east and more emphasis on dispersing economic growth—?

  Sir John Egan: I am longer in the tooth than you are but I do remember governments' wish to try to take work to where people were in the car industry and they put factories in South Wales, Scotland, Liverpool and in many other places. I think there is only one still around. They have all closed down.

  Q694  Mr Chaytor: Nissan is still in Sunderland and Toyota is still in—

  Sir John Egan: Our experience of taking work to the people has not been very good. It killed the British car industry. It actually killed it. One of the many reasons it died was because it spent a whole decade of its investment in places other than where it has normally been successful. You are leading to something and I am not quite sure what it is, but let me put you straight on this. There is no way that we can actually suddenly invent some other purpose for single purpose mill towns or mining towns. There is simply no way of conjuring this out of thin air. Every time you do, you fail. What you can do however is to build on places where you can be successful and put good transport links into those. I think that what the major cities have done is splendid. I would like to see a lot more done by the university towns to also start planning the prosperity of their region and it will not be simple and it will not be by manufacturing special purpose vehicles—

  Chairman: It will be even harder if all the talented people have moved into London and the south east! I think there is a moral issue to this as well as a spatial and planning one.

  Q695  Mr Francois: If I followed your argument, you are saying that we are going to get another one million people in the south east over 10 years.

  Sir John Egan: The prosperity of the south east will attract one million more people. That is mostly what other people have said and I think it looks pretty sensible that that is going to happen.

  Q696  Mr Francois: I have some sympathy with my northern colleagues here because we do not want to become overburdened and they do not want to be denuded. If that happens over ten years, presumably those trends will continue into the next ten years and the next. So, where does this stop? There has to be some physical capacity to how much the south east can take.

  Sir John Egan: I think other world-class things will occur in the United Kingdom and the trouble we have is that, right now, we only have one big world-class thing which is London. We have it and it is very successful and we should rejoice in it. What I would be doing, if I had anything to do with it, is to look for other world-class potential and I would build those up as well. I think one is obvious and that is Cambridge; they have £500 million worth of investment money to invest with business into scientific facilities and that could be another huge world-class activity. There will be others. I think Manchester has every chance of being a world-class city; it has the drive and the urge; it has the world-class university to go with it and I have no doubt that it will be successful, and places like Newcastle will be as well. Do not just assume that because you have some dream that the people will actually stay where they are when the prosperity is elsewhere. I went to a grammar school up in the Pennines and, when I went back to give the prizes at the grammar school, I asked the headmaster, "Does anybody ever come back here?" and he said, "No, nobody ever comes back here, they all go down to London, that is where they go." With respect, you cannot invent a new world. The new world we have is great prosperity here. If you want to do something about it, then what you have to do is make other places very successful as well.

  Q697  Mr Francois: I can partly understand that argument. You talked about people coming down from the Pennines but it goes far further than that. We have already said anecdotally this afternoon that we are going to have investment bankers coming to the south east and we are going to have Australian barmaids—

  Sir John Egan: And from Italy and from Poland and all these places.

  Q698  Mr Francois: And we are going to have Bolivian chartered surveyors as well! Is there anybody who is not coming to the south east, Sir John?

  Sir John Egan: As long as the prosperity is something like 50% above the average in the EU, no, it will not stop for a very long time.

  Q699  Chairman: Thank you. We will end on that note. We are very grateful to you for your time and particularly for the extension of your time and also for your evidence which has been most helpful.

  Sir John Egan: I have to remind you that this is not my day job; I have to rush off to my day job.

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