Archive for March, 2017

The issues around building houses in Staffordshire

Monday, March 13th, 2017

I spoke at a conference on the subject of development in Staffordshire this week.  It was a fascinating insight into the challenges that we face with regard to planning the future shape and form of our ‘built environment,’ as the professionals in this field refer to it. The target for Staffordshire in terms of building houses is some 5,000 per year, but we are only managing to build about 2,000. Where we have managed to build larger numbers locally, such as the 350 houses built for the Ministry of Defence in Stafford in 2015, it has required enormous efforts to “bend the system out of shape” to achieve results. Something will have to change if we are to make such a major increase, sustained over a long period.

A recent report into the construction industry, concentrating on the skills sector, written by Mark Farmer for the Construction Leadership Council, has concluded that the industry must adapt or die. But the problem seems to go more widely than the skills sector. As somebody who is in the middle of building a house, it is evident that the product has not changed much in the past century. We still prefer bricks and mortar, and although uPVC windows and insulation are now the norm, nothing much else has changed. When one compares that with any other product, such as cars, phones, or clothes, it is pretty clear that we are not making the most of modern technology.

Of course, one can only build what one can sell, but we have an opportunity with the Northern Gateway Development Zone, focussed around the economic development opportunities arising from HS2, to do something different. The government white paper on housing makes it clear that it wants to champion what they refer to as “disruptors” in the market – new products which excite customers and change perceptions. This is particularly relevant for prefabricated construction, which has a poor reputation in the UK for housing, but is increasingly becoming the norm in places like Germany. We’ve been here before though, and it’s surprising that the UK has lost its edge in this area. Our aircraft and car industry were at the forefront of prefabricated construction immediately after the Second World War, and the original prefabs were very popular with those who were resettled from the bombed-out cities.

This is a fascinating area, and one which will undoubtedly consume our attention in the coming months and years.

Creating a more agile and confident organisation

Monday, March 6th, 2017

This week we had the first Senior Managers’ Conference for almost exactly a year.  The theme was Smart Working – how we can become a more effective organisation.  People often talk about organisations becoming more agile, but my experience is that it is easier said than done.  I equate agility with confidence, 2 sides of the same coin.  If you think of gymnastics, a large part of success is having the confidence to undertake the movements, as well as having the strength and flexibility.  For me, it’s the same for an organisation like our own.  We have a huge well of experience and knowledge, and we cover a breath-taking array of services and activities.  We are on an upwards trajectory, but there is more to do.

For those of us who work in Stafford, we are approaching the move dates which will see us consolidating in SP1 and 2.  I’ve been impressed with the positive, forward-leaning attitude that I’ve come across from everybody involved it this project.  Change can be unsettling, but this is a precursor to making us the more agile and confident organisation that we will need to be in the coming months and years.  The real improvements will be made after the initial moves, and I’m looking for suggestions and ideas which will make us more effective.  We had a presentation at the Senior Managers’ Conference from the child protection social workers who have undertaken the pilot of mobile working, an idea which came from the practitioners themselves and which they refined in terms of equipment and procedures.  It was truly inspirational.  More of the same please.