Strategic Leadership Group - Paul Lowe9 Jun 21
What do you hope to achieve as part of the Strategic Leadership Group?
I have been a member of GIRI a long time, and I am passionate about it. Like many members, I feel the time is right to grasp the nettle as to the causes of error – and the causes of losses – in the sector. I would like to see a focus on the relationship between construction and its insurers. There is a huge amount of work on best practice that can be shared by the insurance and construction sectors both to help reduce error and to build bridges between construction businesses and their insurers.
How does your current role align with GIRI objectives?
Part of my day job is looking at why things go wrong. Over the years, I have seen too many incidents and mistakes leading to expensive legal disputes, and lots of my clients are insurance companies that have had big bills as a result of errors. I have seen the problems that result from getting things wrong, so to focus on reducing error seems obvious.
What do you see as the top priority for the SLG?
At the highest level, to provide some strategic leadership. In this context, I see that as having conversations with leaders in construction, but also more broadly. In my current role, I work with the Secretary of State and Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government on planning and building remediation, and I believe the SLG needs to lead these high-level discussions - with industry and with Government - and set a vision for what we want GIRI to achieve.
What do you see as the biggest barrier to reducing error on a meaningful scale in the construction industry?
Culture. You don’t have to look very far to see examples of bad culture, for example in procurement, or in how construction operations are managed. Grenfell is the obvious example. So breaking down those cultural barriers is a challenge.
Another barrier is people’s natural inclination to take a competitive view and not share best practice. Competition can be a good thing, but it can also be an obstacle, and we need to find ways around this.
Finally – and this is linked to culture – changing mindsets from “we’ll just crack on pick up the pieces at the end” to a focus on getting it right from the start. We need to change attitudes towards investing earlier in a project. Isn’t it better to spend more at the outset to ensure you get the design right rather than deal with the fallout later when you realise you’ve got it wrong?
How do you think the industry's priorities have changed in the last 12 months and what impact has this had on error reduction?
In some ways, everything has changed. The industry has had to grapple with continuing to operate and remaining profitable in a pandemic. And the criticisms that have come out of the Grenfell inquiry have laid bare some of the long-standing cultural problems within the industry.
However, to some extent priorities haven’t changed. The aim is still to make a profit. But I think there is a greater emphasis now on error reduction and error avoidance, partly because of Grenfell, and partly because companies have had to take a more efficient view during Covid. It’s a mixed picture, but I am confident we are moving to a place where error avoidance becomes a board-level issue.
What first step/easy win would you suggest to someone just starting on their journey towards zero error?
Join GIRI. So much of the work has already been done by GIRI members. We’ve done so much research, identified where errors are occurring and why, and written the reports. Joining GIRI is an easy win for companies looking to reduce error.
Other than that, make sure that quality matters at the very top of the business, in the same way that health and safety has become a board-level discussion. The same should be true of quality.
About Paul Lowe
A Partner at Weightmans LLP, Paul is a specialist construction and insurance lawyer and a recognised expert on building and fire safety issues.
Paul has experience of advising in numerous types of construction and engineering projects and has acted for a wide range of major insurers and organisations within the construction industry. Paul is acting for a core participant in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and has been invited by the Cabinet Office and Building Safety Minister to advise on the Building Safety Bill and its impact on insurers.