Unconstructive quango

A WMTPA supporter recently queried the existence of the West Midlands Centre for Constructing Excellence, a body set-up to “improve the capabilities and competitiveness of the West Midlands construction industry”, the like of which is replicated in each of the regions.

A quick glimpse at their distinguished board members and we can immediately spot a familiar pattern, with the usual representatives from Advantage West Midlands, the Learning and Skills Council, Birmingham City Council and The University of Wolverhampton taking their – no doubt very comfortable – seats.

Sure enough, this is being paid for by (you, via) Advantage West Midlands, and the European Regional Development Fund, and as usual, it’s pretty unclear what actual tangible value this quango adds to the industry or it’s ‘competitiveness’.

We can only guess at how much is being ploughed into this venture, and an exploration of the website doesn’t really reveal much about what WMCCE is actually up to.

The ‘news’ section has been updated five times this year, the last time being in early May, with an article about their black-tie awards ceremony, hosted by the ITV Central News presenter, Joanne Malin – glamorous. Sounds like a great forum for industry networking and back-slapping, but should this sort of event be eating into our tax pounds? We can only hope that wasn’t the case and some sponsorship was acquisitioned, though we know this isn’t the AWM way.

The latest downloadable newsletter was published in Autumn 2007, the last published report was July 2007, the same with their “presentations” section which has been left idle for a year now. You may well take some heart from the fact that this body has a dedicated research website, but you’d ultimately be disappointed to find that no-one has bothered with that since July 2007 either. There’s an eerie sense of abandonment about the whole thing.

The only page that is tip-top and up-to-date is the ‘events’ page, of which there are plenty. It’s just unfortunate if you live in the wider West Midlands region that nearly all of them are in Birmingham…

The main emphasis of the WMCCE seems to be on supporting the industry by providing subsidised or completely gratis business services. If you’re wondering what on earth this means, luckily they’ve provided some handy bullet points:

  • Subsidised or in some cases fully-funded programmes in business improvement, technology deployment and workforce development. 
  • Technical and process improvement advice through a dedicated Helpline. WMCCE Advice Line 0870 787 5683 
  • Diagnostic review of your business operation. 
  • Knowledge transfer and innovation assistance. 
  •  E-Newsletter/bulletins on best practice, business opportunities, knowledge transfer, workforce development opportunities, funding opportunities and regional events.

These services are available free for ‘eligible’ companies, which we might assume are those companies who are unable to purchase such services for themselves, i.e. failing companies or those who are insubstantially funded and flailing whilst trying to establish themselves in the business, and so the taxpayer is called upon to prop-up those who can't subsist normally without this sort of drastic intervention.

Presumably those successfully given the kiss of life are lauded at the aforementioned award ceremony, but for those badly flagging businesses, no doubt this functions as a rather expensive but exhaustibly flimsy sticky-plaster.

No-one is suggesting that the WMCCE is the only body guilty of just being there, existing purely to spend money, “provide advice”, hold events, run a website, "promote the industry" (as if those who need to construct something have any other choice than to use construction firms...) – there is a proliferation of such bodies. The public sector is loathe to leave any industry alone to function independently without an unnecessarily large, and questionably effective safety-net like this. The links page also makes harrowing reading to say the least.

This venture hires ten staff to do a job that has never existed before, providing ‘assistance’ to one of the oldest industries there is. Is it genuinely more ‘competitive’ that it has been historically? Construction has always evolved, developed and learned to adapt, so why is it now the job of taxpayers to facilitate this most natural of processes, via unelected and unaccountable officials?