The Great British Workman?

What is it with the British? There’s been so much bitching over the last couple of years about conditions in the building and services industries, so it might seem reasonable to expect that companies would be focussing on delivering for their clients and just getting the job done.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual doing of things, we’ve far too often found contractors to have no commitment, no understanding of what constitutes a job well done, to be utterly careless of everything around them, to turn up when they feel like it (i.e. not that often), and to believe that a working day is 4.5 hours. That’s before we find that they couldn’t project manage their way out of an open box and are most often utterly ignorant of the best practice and modern products. Worse, they don’t seem to care that they’re ignorant. The very concept of contracts is treated with suspicion and any attempt to agree milestones and schedules is treated as a personal affront.

We do have a couple of very good local contractors (our general builder and electrician), but of course they’re insanely busy so difficult to schedule, but they really do stand out in a sea of uncaring mediocrity.

More than anything else, our experiences, if typical (which anecdotally they seem to be) illustrate the huge gap into reality of UK governments’ commitment to building a low-carbon future. Whether it’s new build, significant renovation of existing stock or the installation of renewable energy systems, creating a low-carbon built environment requires a degree of education, understanding, precision and organisation that seems utterly alien to the British building industry – how on earth, for instance, can we build to Passivhaus standards and beyond, in a world where architects can’t measure a 20m long building to +/- 1m, where renewable energy services are the province of amateurs and cowboys and where industry standards and certification schemes seem to be a meaningless and toothless joke.

We’re going to struggle through with our renovation and are considering a new build in the future. My inclination at that point would be to ship an entire build team in from a country that understands planning, delivery and care for the job at hand. Where’s my German dictionary?

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