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Q&A: Rebooting construction - Competence

In the last of three Q&As that consider the implications of the draft Building Safety Bill, Hilti talks to Neil Farrance of Formation Architects

'The Building Safety Bill places great emphasis on the importance of competence, but doesn’t attempt to define it. That leaves a challenge for those who have to assess it.'
'The Building Safety Bill places great emphasis on the importance of competence, but doesn’t attempt to define it. That leaves a challenge for those who have to assess it.' Credit: Toby Morison

Sum up what competence means to you.

Assessing competence in building procurement is not straightforward because building design and construction is so inherently collaborative, involving many individuals and companies with very different complementary skillsets, knowledge and experiences. When working together, they will ideally create a team that has the combined competence to deliver the building, but what constitutes competence for each project and team member may differ.

For me, a way forward for the industry can be seen in BSI’s Built Environment Competence Standards framework of documents. The framework states, 'Competence is a combination of skills, knowledge, experience and behaviour' and seems to foster a spirit of collaboration and teamwork.

By contrast, the Building Safety Bill [PDF] places great emphasis on the importance of competence, but doesn’t attempt to define it. That leaves a challenge for those who have to assess it.

What actions could architects be taking now to build competence?

The challenge we all face is how to prepare for something that isn’t yet clearly and definitively defined or universally understood. It is important for architects to familiarise themselves with the bill and its implications. They need to understand current and emerging regulations on fire safety.

CPD will have its place, but needs to be more focused. There has been too much dependence on suppliers and sub-contractors using the CPD programme to promote their products. At Formation Architects we’ve reviewed our approach to CPD to put more focus on the bill, lessons learned and shared knowledge.

Practices will also have to build trust and relationships with professional indemnity insurers.

What influence can architects have, given the broader industry’s need for change?

UK architects are in the unique position of being the only statutorily regulated profession in the built environment. The Architects Registration Board therefore has a unique power to set standards and control and monitor competence in the profession.

The architect is invariably appointed as the lead consultant, so they are responsible for co-ordinating and leading the design team. It is therefore essential the architect is equipped to lead the process and understand the shared objective to improve building safety.

I envisage a future where there is less reliance on newly qualified part 3 architects and part 2 assistants and where teams working on high-risk buildings increasingly rely on more experienced senior staff. But that has cost implications and is hard to reconcile with the current highly competitive fee environment.

What impact do you anticipate the Building Safety Bill will have on competence?

The bill has the potential to address what Dame Judith Hackitt described as 'a race to the bottom' [PDF]. We know many factors led to Grenfell, with too many opposing conflicts of interest and no apparent spirit of collaboration.

I hope the bill will lead to greater collaboration and a wider understanding of the shared objective to create safer buildings and promote greater confidence in those responsible for procuring buildings.

My fear, however, is that the bill is a missed opportunity. It seems to focus too much on individual responsibilities and liabilities - and punishments and sanctions. Sanctions and clear lines of responsibility are important, but they are not automatically going to result in safer buildings, improved quality and increased confidence in the industry.

There are still simply too many conflicts of interest, not least, cost versus quality. Collectively, we somehow have to work together to rebuild trust and confidence.

Neil Farrance is partner at Formation Architects

This Q&A was produced in association with Hilti



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