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Shed to Shard: Iain Mcilwee, CEO of the Finishes and Interiors Sector (FIS)

Iain Mcilwee, Chief Executive of The Finishes and Interiors Sector (FIS), explains how the FIS is supporting SMEs and contractors when it comes to the Building Safety Act – and why individuals should look to join a relevant trade body for help and support.

Do you think SMEs and contractors are prepared to deliver on the requirements of the Building Safety Act?
The issue for many SMEs is that they may not be fully briefed on the wider implications of the Building Safety Act. It isn’t just about high-risk residential buildings, it’s ‘shed to Shard’ and applies to every building and project in between that has more than one contractor working on it. There has been a fundamental change to the wider Building Regulations landscape and SMEs and contractors are going to need support. We’ve talked about change before, but this time it is different – this time the enforcement agency is going to come down hard and has been granted the power to do so. So, everyone needs to be prepared and ensure they are well informed.

What can contractors do to protect and prepare themselves for this change?
How you define your competence is key. This means prioritising and evidencing knowledge, skills and experience within your workforce and making sure that you are training and supporting your people. Competence isn’t just about the individual; it is about organisational capability and making sure that you have your occupational work supervisors competently trained and that behaviours are supporting people to work competently. Additionally, information management is critical: ensuring that you are signing off jobs properly and that people understand what their duty is and how they can prove that they have carried out a project correctly.

At the FIS, we’re really trying to push the concept of ‘the responsible no’. This is being able to say ‘actually, I’m not competent’, or ‘I’m not insured to do that’. The Bob the Builder, ‘can we fix it? Yes we can’ mentality needs to go. If you hit an issue on site, the answer to the question ‘can you fix it?’ might be ‘no, actually – you need to redesign it’.

What is the FIS doing to help and support SMEs and contractors with this issue?
The FIS has been involved in discussions about how the regulations should perform from day one. When we look at a change we always focus on ‘how can we help individual companies get through today’, ‘what can we collectively do to make tomorrow better’ and ‘how can we inform people about the policies and the decisions that are being made’.

So, we’ve focused our collective wisdom to look at issues like making sure systems are compatible and fit together properly to reduce the number of problems being faced by contractors. We’ve updated our guides and publications to ensure that the core information we are providing to our members is up-to-date and that we’re challenging the market, identifying problems, and looking to find common, collective solutions. We’ve published a basic guide to the Building Safety Act – as well as a short training course – to help people broaden their understanding of it, as well as a guide to the Golden Thread and a number of other specifiers guides.

Plus, we’ve strengthened our own legal team to ensure that we are equipped to support our members during disputes that may arise.

Why should individuals and SMEs consider joining a trade association?
My message to installers, whether you join a trade association or not, is don’t bury your head in the sand. There are so many people out there who are keen to help and support you; but there can be a tendency to think that it’s all red tape and ignore it. The truth is that construction is an engineering sector, and we need to be informed about the regulations and standards. There are some brilliant trade associations in construction, and they are a vital knowledge network – I would encourage people to join.

At the FIS, we don’t exist to make money; we exist because our community understands the collective effort to support change is essential. No one company can write, set and uphold standards.  At FIS, we care and are working to make a difference moving forward and at the same time support people in difficult times. People tell us that they have chosen to become a member because they want to be prepared and informed. No matter how good you are at the business side of things, you could always be hit by something that you didn’t see coming. We can help to identify these issues and be there when they do. We also have an expert team that we can draw on to support people through challenges. We’ve recently started working with insolvency practitioner, for example, as we want to make sure that our members have the best possible advice when they face up to some of the brutal realities of today – it is about ensuring they know what help is available and getting advice to them whilst they still have options.

Who can join the FIS?
We work with suppliers and specialist contractors delivering interior systems. They must be a UK-based company and we tend to focus on residential, commercial and public sector works, we don’t get so involved in domestic work. We do vet our members to ensure that they meet the requirements of our code of conduct, and that includes actually going to one of their sites. We find that walking around with a hardhat and boots on and talking to the people is the best way to get a feel for a company.

The FIS has recently announced its support for SkillBuild 2024. Why are competitions like SkillBuild important to the industry?
It’s about practicing what we preach. We are all about collective action and pooling our resources, and SkillBuild embodies that. The reality is that we need to recruit 10% of the population into construction, which is one in every 10 kids leaving school. We don’t want them to just fall into the industry because there was nothing better to do – we need them to want to work in construction. I think SkillBuild gives us the platform to encourage that, as well as an opportunity for us to contact schools and colleges to ensure that people are aware of our industry.

For more information on the FIS, visit www.thefis.org

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