The FMJ Debate: how can FM be heard within the walls of Whitehall?

Facilities management trade bodies are often contemplating how to make government take greater notice of an industry that now represents 5% of UK GDP, but what must the industry do to make its voice heard?  Adelphine Williams was present to hear a panel of experts in October's FMJ Debate give their thoughts on the topic.

The trade show is primarily a place where exhibitors come to show off their newest and brightest products or services to a board of potential customers.  But with so much of the supply chain present, from manufacturer to service provider to end user, shows also provide a valuable opportunity to network, research, and discuss best practice and new solutions to some of the industry's most critical and pressing challenges.  Total Workplace Management was no different.

Walking the exhibition and taking in the information on show, I enjoyed meeting and comparing findings with marketing and business development personnel, each of them keen to explain the unique and practical solutions available.  It struck me how innovative and progressive the products and services were, and how events like this one can ultimately drive and improve future operations, due to the exchange of information and the opportunities to receive feedback in real time.  The exhibitors' tenacity and vigour at every bend reflected the determination and passion feeding the desire for change, and pursued rightful place securely within the strategic decision making process with the boardroom status that so many leaders and thinkers in facilities management feel is vital and deserved.

For those who worked in facilities management, it was business as usual with a steady flow of interested guests and FM professionals, keen to listen to and take part in the FMJ debate.  It was also an event organised to discuss the very current issue addressing the question of how FM can be heard within behind the walls of Whitehall, simultaneously cementing its position as an industry with an important say in society.

Hosting the event was Martin Pickard, journalist and entrepreneur at FM Guru, along with a panel that boasted contributors who were able to give a realistic insight, each from their own individual perspective of their experiences working with and within operational divisions and procurement teams, to increase the profile and recognition of the FM industry.  Speakers included Iain Murray, Deputy Chairman of Global FM; John Moriarty, Chairman at FMA; Richard Byatt, corporate and public affairs Director for BIFM; Deborah Rowland, Head of Facilities Management category in Government Unit; and Martin Corbett, Derwent FM's Managing Director.

A broadly representative panel of distinguished guest speakers were able to articulate interesting perspectives and somewhat opposite experiences, relating to the question being discussed.  Each spokesperson shared details of their most recent work, efforts and endeavours, evidencing unique outcomes and exposing, in some cases, an urgent need for more collaboration and shared information.

Although my general assumption was that we were to hear frequent accounts of frustrating conversations and efforts on both sides of the ‘wall' that had not yielded the opportunities for integration; and for Facilities Management professionals to influence and, where appropriate, drive the boardroom decision making process in areas such as the management of environmental impacts, I was encouraged to hear Martin Corbett speaking about his company's recent success after winning another desirable government contract, fulfilling the company's bidding strategy.

Derwent FM is an intelligent FM provider who plays to its strengths in the student accommodation and services market within the public sector.  They adopt a targeted approach to tendering, preferring not to take a scattergun approach but to bid very specifically as part of a planned strategy for growth.  To ensure their operating models meet the needs of their clients, focus groups, consultations and surveys are regularly undertaken.  The business' objective is to understand what works and what is needed in order to sustain satisfaction and preferred supplier status.

The win, it seemed, supported Deborah Rowland's statement about government's role in facilitating the change needed in order to objectively engage with Facilities Management, and in particular smaller businesses declaring a 25% award target for companies proposing resilient and innovative solutions to the management of government spaces, and the delivery of competitively priced services within them.

We know that Facilities Management already makes a significant contribution to the country's GDP.  Figures mentioned in the debate state it as 5%, with 7% growth forecast over the next one to two years.  The impact that Facilities Management can have on the government's green agenda, as well as the job opportunities the industry can create, is significant.  These potential economic gains cannot be ignored, and yet there is still a kind of perceived lethargy and indifference or disconnect that interferes with the creation and establishment of a strategic and collaborative alliance.  An alliance such as this could underpin and form a basis for real change and progression, benefitting the nation by protecting and enhancing government's investment in our security, health, environment, transport, social housing, education mechanisms, and provision.

Unsurprisingly, those panellists representing the professional bodies of Facilities Management talked about their frustration at what they felt was a lack of commitment and support for Facilities Management, and Whitehall's reluctance to recognise the industry for its contribution.  John Moriarty, Chairman of FMA, wanted to discuss how FM could be relied upon not just as a tactical function but also as a real strategic force central and crucial to an organisation's profitability, strength and growth.  He felt that the relationship, as it stands, is one of convenience and not one based in an acknowledge awareness and recognition of the vital and distinctive expertise the Facilities Management function delivers.  Iain Murray, Deputy Chairman at Global FM, agreed with this assessment to an extent and spoke about the difficulty he had experienced, when seeking government support for World FM day.  By comparison, support was achieved in Australia for the same event.

Richard Byatt, the Corporate and Public Affairs Director for BIFM, was able to put a positive slant on the discussion.  Although he acknowledged that the walls at Whitehall are indeed very high, Byatt seemed convinced that those behind them are receptive and open the benefits of working together.  However, he went on to say that more than just seeking recognition and profile, Facilities Management leaders and operators need to communicate how FM can deliver process, policy and very importantly relevance.  He expressed the importance of a focused and realistic approach to this challenge and the tactical importance of integrating with the construction industry, to vividly demonstrate the function's crucial and significant consequence, when applied to the strategic design and planning process early on.

Byatt also advised that targeting those working in government organisations and holding managerial positions in the tactical and operational departments within Property and Facilities Management can be far more effective.  Within these environments, there is far more willingness and cooperation than in some of the ministerial offices, as here there is real desire and need for applied solutions and the application of standardised working systems, utilising tried and tested best practice formulas and procedures.  This steer and recommendation reflects a general need for a more sophisticated, creative and savvy approach, important for our communications and public image strategy.  Facilities Management professionals and leaders should think carefully as well as construct and apply a communications mix of best language, route and message.  All that in order to implant a compelling vision in the minds of those within government who can help in the industry's efforts to establish recognition, integration and value.

With that said, there is evidence of change and progression within Whitehall, and there are signs that the doors are opening.  Deborah Rowland was recently appointed as the Head of the Facilities Management category within the government's property unit.  Amongst many challenges, her brief is to support and help drive upwards the image and awareness of the Facilities Management category within the government's property unit.  Amongst many challenges, her brief is to support and help drive upwards the image and awareness of the Facilities Management and Property industries.  She also wants to concentrate on supporting and overseeing changes in the awarding of contracts, including the review and measurement of contract award and allocation outcomes.  Competitive pricing and the bundling of services are important considerations to help drive down costs to government, and the environmental impacts of buildings and services are also key variables for analysis and assessment. 
Rowland described the current recruitment drive within government that has a strong emphasis on attracting and employing strong personnel, from the private sector into this relatively new division set up to help champion these objectives.

Based on what we heard during this interesting debate, it is clear that there is an obvious misunderstanding between what government is professing and what the industry leaders in Facilities Management experience.  The best we can do is to take Whitehall at its word and make those approaches to advance the profile and position of Facilities Management towards a position at the boardroom table, if that is indeed the unanimous and accepted objective.  The Facilities Management industry needs unity, openness and corporation if it is to approach government with a clear and easily understood agenda, indicating relevant and measured value in terms of contribution.

Martin Pickard believed that sitting at the boardroom table is not what is most important and essential to Facilities Management's journey toward equal recognition for its input.  It is obvious and undisputed that the work Facilities Management services deliver each day and night across all sectors and public services ensures the nation's security, capability and way of life; and it is perhaps this simple message that should underpin a united, single and easy to understand approach when working at Whitehall.

Further info
John Moriarty is Managing Director of FSI (FM Solutions) Limited, which designs and develops the Concept Evolution™ completely web-based CAFM solution.