Election 24: ‘Make construction important’ pleads outgoing Wates boss

Construction deserves a bigger focus in government and is too often viewed as an “afterthought”, the outgoing boss of Wates Construction has said.

“For too long, for an industry that employs so many people and that adds so much to the economy, construction is seen as an afterthought by political parties,” Paul Chandler, Wates Construction executive managing director, told Construction News in an exclusive interview.

Chandler is retiring from Wates Construction at the end of 2024 after seven years at the helm. He will remain on the Wates Group board, but he told CN he is stepping back from day-to-day duties to spend more time with his family.

Chandler will be replaced by Steffan Battle, who was appointed as non-executive managing director at Wates Construction in March. Battle will also join Wates’ executive committee at the beginning of July.

Chandler told CN that over his 42-year career in construction – and regardless of which party has been in Downing Street – the sector has “not been given the importance it deserves”.

“My plea would be, make construction important and put your weight behind it,” he said.

The government should regularly talk to the biggest consultants, contractors and clients as well as the trade bodies representing the different parts of the industry, Chandler said.

He suggested the number of construction ministers that have served in post since the turn of the century (25) is too high, saying: “It should be one or two [every decade].”

Despite the changes he has seen throughout the industry since he started his career in 1982 aged 18, Chandler said some things have not changed.

“We cut a ribbon and celebrated in the office when we had our first fax machine,” he said. “Face-to-face contact was a premium and an absolute necessity [and it still is].

“Technology is a great facilitator of a process, but there is no substitute for having talented people.”

Looking ahead, Chandler called for planning laws to be streamlined and for the government to once again invest in public-private partnerships, despite successive problems with the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) structure.

“The planning process is still far too difficult, and there’s still too much red tape,” he added.

Though he recognises the “bad rap” PFI got around rising building costs, Chandler argued it got “very significant facilities built” in a number of sectors.

“The government and industry should be open to something that allows the public and private sectors to work far more collaboratively.”

Chandler’s call for another attempt at public-private partnerships echoes that made by 12 major contractors and consultancies in a report published on Monday (3 June).

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