Cliff Smith: Scotland is driving culture change to avoid error – the industry needs to take up the call

Cliff Smith: Scotland is driving culture change to avoid error – the industry needs to take up the call

Cliff Smith

The launch of the Construction Quality Improvement Collaborative (CQIC) is a proud moment for Scottish construction and shows how far the sector has come in tackling attitudes towards error and quality control, says Cliff Smith.

It’s been six long years since the Edinburgh Schools problems, which triggered a great deal of introspection in the industry not just over the specifics of the closure of the 17 schools that followed, but how to address the approaches and behaviours that allowed the situation to arise.

The work that has been done since then has laid the groundwork for change, but the industry cannot rest on its laurels. With the CQIC’s support, there is now a real opportunity to shape a positive culture of designing-out and avoiding error in the construction process.

Using the power and influence of Government

The Scottish Government itself deserves a good deal of credit for taking a leadership role and the CQIC is one part of a wider web of industry-wide initiatives and commitments to zero error.

The main call to action is an invitation to sign up to a construction quality charter which is now being promoted for adoption across the industry – in both public and private sectors. Importantly, the CQIC is not there to mandate rules but to encourage proactive adoption of approaches which put quality at the heart of all decision making. In doing so, it recognises that a positive culture cannot simply be dictated but needs to be nurtured. Key to its success will be an acceptance of long-term underperformance and the willingness to embrace the dire need for a shift in attitudes. 

Having made these inroads, we now need to exploit the platform provided by governmental support to amplify our calls for the wider industry to match such commitments to doing things differently. 

Recognising the serious costs of construction error

That is because error has become embedded in construction culture across the UK. Research by the Get It Right Initiative (GIRI) estimates that error costs as much as £21 billion a year in the UK alone, or 21 per cent of project value. With rising materials prices, coupled with wider economic pressures, financial incentives to address the implications of error have never been more obvious. 

The consequences also go beyond the purely financial. As the UK edges closer to its net zero carbon 2050 deadline, zero error construction is crucial if we are to reach our sustainability targets. Eradicating error from a project means reducing waste and consequently embodied carbon – thereby supporting projects, businesses, and the industry to drive down emissions. As we welcome news that Scottish Government has adopted a ‘Passivhaus’ standard for new builds, design standards are only as good as the construction that delivers them, and that means getting it right first time.

Taking up the mantle of change

GIRI has been championing efforts to reduce error since 2015 – seeking to bring this conversation into the open. The launch of the CQIC is an incredibly welcome milestone and must be the start of a new chapter in this journey. It’s now up to the rest of the UK to follow the example set by the Scottish construction industry as we strive towards a culture which gets it right first time.

  • Cliff Smith is the executive director of the Get It Right Initiative, a not-for-profit membership group looking to eradicate error from the construction industry

Share icon
Share this article: