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Coordinated delivery of heritage skills development and training

Murdo MacLeod

Group Leader Property Conservation, Edinburgh City Council

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. That’s me, and that’s where I fit in the food chain of Edinburgh City Council. This is Edinburgh – it’s a bit pompous, I know, but there are three items in there that I want you to pick up. One, masonry – Edinburgh is a predominantly stone-built city, sandstone. Two is living – most people live in these buildings, they are not museums, including the castle. And reality – this is the reality that we have to work with. I’m going to give you a bit of background about Edinburgh, the problems we face, and how we have tried to deal with that, and hopefully it’ll stimulate some conversation among you.

This is Edinburgh: it’s actually a very small town in the great scheme of things. It has a population of approximately half a million, 82 per cent is in private ownership, and everything I talk to you about today is private property, it’s not city-owned property or anything else, it’s owned by the public. The 82 per cent private ownership is actually quite different to the rest of Scotland: Glasgow, for instance, is nearly half and half. Most of Edinburgh is flatted, and most of that is pre-1919 properties. We have no culture of factoring or property management at all within the city.

There was a study commissioned by the Scottish Office, as it was, and I’ve updated it, and it says that there is £758 million of repairs required to the private housing stock, but thankfully we have unique legislation, which is the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991, which allows us to be quite draconian and make people repair their property, and if they don’t repair their property, I do it for them. That’s what I’m going to talk to you about today. I give them 28 days to do it, if they don’t, I do it. We issue 3,000 statutory notices a year, requiring people to do that. These are at the request of the owners themselves, and most tenements or stairs - whatever you want to call them – have about ten people in them, so that’s about 30,000 individual notices. I recover every penny I spend, from the owners themselves. I have a workload of about £30 million, and an annual turnover of about £16 million. Most of that is very small works – drains, repairs of the odd slate, and the like, so it’s about 700-odd contracts in total.

This is my playground: tenements in the main, stone-built, pre-1919. Some, in the centre of the city, are in the Edinburgh World Heritage Site, some of them are not. Some are listed, A,B,C, some are tier 1, 2 ,3, I don’t care: they all get the same standard of repair. There should not be any postcode lottery about the standard of repair.

These are the items I deal with: storm damage, or any other kind of external damage that happens to property. Stone decay – we’ve all come across items of stone, but particularly in Edinburgh we have sandstone buildings, they’re mostly over 100 years old, and they are needing some repair. Lack of maintenance – as I said before, there is no history of maintenance or combined maintenance there, so we have to pick up the pieces. Inappropriate repairs, particularly the use of cement - in this case, cement pointing, which has accelerated the decay of the building - and large-scale cement repairs. These are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous, and we have a big public safety role to play as well.

We deal with structural failures - I’ll give you a bit of detail of this one: this is a pediment of a tenement in the Marchmont area of the city. There are five pediments – you can see one immediately behind it. The stone underneath – this is four storeys up – has started to decay, and the whole thing is slipping out. Each side of this is about quarter of a tonne, there are no gardens, you can see what could happen. Regrettably in one incident, although this was a construction detail, we had a fatality, and we’re not the only city that has had this.

We also deal with new build, so it’s not just traditional buildings that fail, we deal with new builds – this was under three years old. They hadn’t fixed the copes on to the head of the wall, and I had to go back and advise them.

Contractors: who do we have, and how do we procure them? We have three-year term of standing contractors with them, and we sub-divide them into various categories: builder works, minor works, under £20,000 per contract. I have five: that’s enough to cover my requirement. For under £20,000, a substantial amount of that is going to be scaffolding, so really, we’re talking roof repairs in the main, or the odd stone, or drainage, gutters or downpipes. Over £20,000, I have a pool of 15 contractors who deal with that. Most of my work – as I said before, because of the size of the scaffolding – is over £15,000. Emergency drainage, we deal with drains as well, we have four of these. A lot of work in drains, as you can imagine – old Victorian sewers. Emergency scaffold, one is enough, if something comes off a building. I have a number of others – they do door entry systems, rot eradication, hoists, surveys, and the like. We have them on fixed contracts, for three years, so they have continuity of work as long as they meet our requirements.

We advertise, as per standing orders, in Europe, through OJEC and through local advertisement. We have a pre-tender qualification that weeds out the people who have mis-answered the advert, and then we have a quality tender process, where we require a minimum standard from all of our contractors, a minimum competence level. Some of these items include the works specification: they must show that they are able to carry out, and have some experience of doing, works to an agreed standard. They must have in place customer care – as I said before, these are living items: people live in these houses when the works are being carried out, so the information they provide to the owners, their behaviour on site, and the response when things go wrong, and things do go wrong, they must have systems in place. The way that this has changed over the last five to eight years has given us a real insight into how we can influence people. The behaviour of contractors, stopping using gutters as latrines, language on site, it’s just disappeared. Complaints against contractors has literally stopped, and that’s because they’re getting the work, they know if they don’t do this, they just simply don’t get any more work. We monitor their performance on site, and that includes – as I said before - the quality of the work, but also the quality of the information they provide and how clean their sites are, and everything else.

A lot of our contractors are quite small in size: five, ten, up to fifteen of a workforce is not unusual, and we as client can provide an economy of scale in providing training for them, and we do that. We bring them together, either in seminars, or to discuss up-and-coming legislation, how we’re going to meet that, or specific items. We had one last year for scaffolding. There had been a scaffolding collapse in the city, so we brought all the scaffolders together, plus all the contractors that carried their own scaffolding, the HSE, the National Federation for Scaffolding, and we had a whole day, with our contractors, to bring them all up to speed.

There was a two-way discussion about up-skilling the contractor force, and it was very interesting. We are running a follow-on, along with the HSE, later this year, to see if they’ve actually taken all these items on board. The anecdotal answer to that is yes, they have. We are providing similar training along with the Scottish Lime Centre Trust, some of the contractors are sending their staff, to meet our competence requirements as well. So, it’s an ongoing process, and is all tied together by the continuity of work. The competence of labour is vital to gluing all of this together.

In terms of the CDM regulations, it is now mandatory that you need to show that the contractors you employ are competent, so how do you do that? You can do it through jobs that they’ve done before, or qualifications. One of the first of these is the stonemasonry qualification. It’s a national progression award which is hopefully about to be validated by the end of this month, and will be available in local Scottish training centres by next semester. It’s an add-on to an existing stonemasonry qualification, to prove that people are competent to work on traditional building or conservation work.

This is fantastic: this is exactly what we need, something to show that people are competent to be on site, the CORGI registering of stonemasons, for want of a better word. We are - as a condition of acceptance, for our next three-year process – we are in the process of re-tendering our work, requiring our stonemasonry contractors to sign up to this award, that over the course of that three-year contract, they will engage with us in up-skilling their force, or in validating the qualifications of their workforce. We take on the responsibility of monitoring that, as the client.

Consultants: I don’t have enough staff to monitor all this work, so I do employ consultants, mostly building surveyors, some architects as well, and they are specifiers for some of our work, and we need to ensure that they are also competent at delivering the service. Again, we have them in framework agreements, and they are tendered on the percentage of the value of the works. They are split into the three categories you see there. Some of these are conservation accredited, be they architects or surveyors. As I said before, the quality of work across the whole city needs to be of a certain standard. Again, we advertise nationally and internationally. There’s a pre-tender qualification, and there is a quality tender, as was mentioned before, to show a minimum competence level.

Work specification: we look at the work that people do on site, in terms of the work that they’re signing off, we monitor the work that they are approving and condemning, but we also monitor the specifications that they write themselves, through us, and deliver, their drawings and so forth. Again, their customer care, how they deal with complaints, is a big part of our business, so that becomes part of the whole monitoring process. Their performance and their quality monitoring is how they get the follow-on jobs. We have found that there’s been a diversity of skill among our consultants: some are good, and some are not quite so good, so we need to up-skill them again. So we have taken on board ourselves to actually run training seminars, along with colleagues form Historic Scotland, the HSE, British Geological Survey, and our contractors – our contractors are the professionals who need to put their skills across to the specifiers, so we have brought them in to train the specifiers, and we have run four of these to date, and at each one of these sessions we get about 200 people. These are either, as I said, architects, surveyors or colleagues from other local authorities, or other such groups, and they’ve worked very well.

Competence of service: again, we’re looking for professional qualifications, conservation qualifications if appropriate: I do understand the requirement for it. There are a lot of people out there who, regrettably, are not conservation accredited, but are very competent in what they do, and we need to marry that up. Their personal knowledge, some of these individuals are the ones who carry the skill for their company, and we need to ensure that that company or that organisation has access to that skill or to diversify that skill as well, and that’s why we engage with these companies to make sure that their workforce are trained, and again, we monitor that and review it on a six-monthly basis, as we do with our contractors, it has to be said. The consultants and the contractors themselves are an integral part of that, so we have three-year guaranteed work, if you meet the quality that we’re looking for. It’s reviewed on a six-monthly basis. We will engage with the contractors and the consultants in terms of training, we meet with them if there are any aspects they have concerns about, we try and organise that ourselves as main contractor, main client, however you want to do it, and so far, it seems to work reasonably well.

The follow-on process: we’re about to re-tender for our contractors, by the end of this year, and the stipulation of mandatory qualifications will be an interesting process, to see how they take on. We’ve had discussions with our contractors, and it has to be said, as long as they are all on the same level playing field, they have been very supportive of our requirements.

I hope that’s been of some use to you. I appreciate that it’s a very small city, and it’s a very small way of doing it, but then we have some unique legislation to give us some clout. Thank you very much for your time.

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