A Q&A with the always busy CEO of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group
Hello Rudi, tell us a bit more
about what you do.
I’m the CEO of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group.
This is an umbrella body representing the industry’s premier trade associations within the specialist engineering sector. Our member trade associations have combined forces in order to be more effective when campaigning on those issues which are common to all their member firms.
These include issues such as improving payment security, changing procurement habits so that specialist engineering firms are involved early in the delivery process and driving up standards of health and safety risk management. We are wholly focussed on outcomes that will help to enhance the trading environment for firms in our sector.
Top of the list of our priorities is payment security. Unless we have unencumbered cashflow there are unlikely to be significant improvements in the industry’s fortunes.
SMEs cannot grow unless they have the means to invest in apprenticeships, upskill existing employees and in the cutting edge technologies that will help us deliver more efficiently. Over the years we have achieved much with the Construction Act providing for the statutory right of suspension for non/late payment and project bank accounts that help to protect interim payments from main contractor insolvency.
As will have been noticed from my CABLEtalk articles our current “big push” is on protecting retention monies. We have much more work to do on this before we get to our goal. An important development in recent years has been the launch of our devolved SEC Groups – in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – they have become the “go-to” bodies for the devolved governments. And finally, this year is the 25th Anniversary of SEC Group.
In the years to come we will have to meet the challenges posed by Professor John Cole’s report on the Edinburgh Schools defects by the Grenfell tragedy and the Carillion debacle. And then there’s Brexit…
What’s a typical day like for you at work?
It’s very difficult to think of a typical day since nearly every day is different. Therefore let’s look at a very recent day. I live on the Shropshire/Wales border near a little town called Welshpool.
To get anywhere I have to be up fairly early. On this particular day I’m up at 5.30am and have to travel to Shrewsbury rail station to catch a train to Birmingham International.
I’m the first speaker at the Midlands Construction Summit. The talk is on the payment landscape following Carillion. I conclude that the only way forward is legislation to:
mandate the use of project bank accounts;
to require that everybody pays within 30 days; and (as in Sweden)
to ring-fence retention monies.
Once question time is over (a questioner thought 30-day payments would put most of the major companies out of business) I head to London. I am a member of the UK Government’s Carillion Taskforce which is chaired by Greg Clark, the Business Secretary.
On this particular day the meeting is about whether there are any loose-ends to be dealt with following Carillion’s collapse. I’m very keen that the UK Government should publish the list of lessons learnt and the actions they have taken/will take to reduce the likelihood of another Carillion and the impact is has had on the industry. I finish off the day with a business dinner and a night in London.
How have you seen the electrical industry change?
Since I’m not an industry insider it’s difficult for me to assess the degree of change in the electrical industry. I’m aware of the fact that, like other sectors, it hasn’t been immune from the changes brought about by the new digital technologies and A1-driven technologies such as robotics. But we mustn’t get too carried away. BIM was supposed to be transformative and yet is still to get traction along the supply chain. I also believe that these new technologies are not necessarily going to cure the fault lines in the industry such as poor procurement and contractual practices that are more concerned with driving risk transfer along the supply chain.
And what do you think the future holds?
On the pessimistic side the uncertainty around the impact of Brexit will linger even beyond 19 March next year. At this stage we would do well to consider Brexit-proofing our contracts to cope with increases in our costs and delays arising from new tariffs and backlogs at customs entry points. On the bright side I’m hoping that all the reviews and reports that have followed in the wake of Edinburgh Schools, Grenfell and Carillion will result in some positive outcomes. One of those should be support for SELECT’s campaign to better regulate the electro-technical sector through a system of licensing those that are technically competent.
How is the fight against retentions going?
I’ve been fighting for reform of the practice of retentions as long as I can remember. I believe that this is the closest we’ve ever been to achieving change. I’m disappointed that the Scottish Government is waiting on the UK Government to act but, at this stage, there cannot be an absolute guarantee that it will legislate to secure retention monies. By now we had hoped that the Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill 2018 would have been supported by the UK Government. I believe that we must continue to apply pressure on the Scottish Government to act through having its own legislation in the Scottish Parliament to ring-fence the monies.
How much collaboration is there between the SEC Group and SELECT?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is working closely with my colleagues in SELECT. I have to single out Alan Wilson who has proved to be the much-respected face of SEC Group Scotland; this is in addition to the work he does as SELECT Director of Communication.
SELECT is a very voluble participant in SEC Group and helps to set the priorities for the future work of the Group. SEC Group UK helps to provide SELECT with a window on to activities in Westminster whilst through SEC Group Scotland SELECT has the added power of the other associations to lend weight to campaigning on matters relevant to the interests of its member firms.
Cheese or chocolate?
Dog or cat person?
Both, provided they kill rats
First car owned?
Citroen BX – it was a complete write-off after I had my first accident
A Fish Called Wanda; one of the funniest firms I’ve ever seen
Favourite TV show?
It has to be Bodyguard, previously it was The Fall
Favourite holiday spot?
Sardinia – exceptional food, wine, people and scenery. What more does one want?
Kathleen Turner, actress in films such as Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honour, and played Mrs Robinson in the Graduate on the London stage almost 18 years ago
One thing people might not know about you?
I was once a ratcatcher