BESA Conference responds to ‘wake-up call’

After a year of extraordinary events and unprecedented change, the industry is preparing to gather at the Park Plaza Victoria hotel in London on November 1 to debate where we go from here.

The financial implications from the collapse of Carillion continue to resonate throughout supply chains up and down the country as does the technical fall out from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Also, the way engineering training is funded and delivered is going through a period of major transition.

All these issues and more will be debated in depth at the BESA National Conference ‘Engineering the Future’, which is taking place with the support of headline sponsor Milwaukee Tools and is designed to help BESA members build resilience into their businesses during a period of radical economic and technical change.

“Grenfell was a wake-up call for everyone involved in the design, construction and operation of buildings – and the BESA Conference is an opportunity to focus on the crucial lessons we are learning from this terrible event,” says BESA chief executive David Frise.

A panel debate on the lessons from Grenfell and featuring experts drawn from across the industry will take centre stage at the Park Plaza. Fire safety – meeting the Hackitt challenge will be jointly hosted by BESA and the Smoke Control Association (SCA) and will be followed by a technical seminar considering the future of fire-rated products and new fire resistant materials.

The conference will also feature a broad debate on Brexit and its implications for the building engineering sector. It will bring together politicians and business leaders to consider how companies should prepare themselves and what the long-term future holds.

So far, the Brexit Panel includes Lord Stunnell, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for construction and chair of the House of Lords working group reviewing the impact of Brexit on construction; high profile ‘remainer’ Tom Cole, head of policy at Open Britain; and the construction reformer Mark Farmer, whose presentation at last year’s conference caused such a stir.

“By the time of the conference, we will be only a few months away from the UK officially leaving the European Union. Whether or not you support Brexit, it’s happening; and the industry needs to be ready,” said BESA’s public affairs and policy manager Alexi Ozioro.

Mr Ozioro will also be interviewing the government’s Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal in a special public session during the conference. Dubbed the ‘late payment tsar’, Mr Uppal will explain how his office can help companies resolve disputes, how effective his role has been so far and where he is trying to make a difference in the wake of Carillion.

BESA President Tim Hopkinson will also be leading a session on off-site manufacturing as the industry looks to adopt this approach more widely to improve quality, productivity and timely delivery of projects.

Another key area to be addressed by the Conference will be Indoor Air Quality and the potential implications of a new Clean Air Act. A cross-party group of MPs recently warned the government that it must not use Brexit as an excuse to water down efforts to address air pollution.

The proposed legislation went before parliament in July and makes specific reference – for the first time – to indoor air, which could place new responsibilities on building owners and operators to take remedial action to protect occupants from risks to health posed by airborne contaminants. This has obvious implications for building engineering firms and will be explained and discussed in a conference session hosted by the BESA Indoor Air Quality group.

This will feed neatly into a session dedicated to the Association’s recently updated kitchen ventilation maintenance guidance TR/19, which will be delivered by the BESA Ventilation Hygiene group. They will also outline changes and improvements to the Ventilation Hygiene Elite registration scheme.

This, along with many other aspects of managing occupant well-being, is adding to the growing weight of responsibility faced by the facilities management profession as a whole, which will be addressed during a session at the Park Plaza chaired by FM guru Geoff Prudence.

As its responsibilities grow, so the sector’s skills needs are evolving so BESA Training will lead a session on apprenticeships – with a key focus on how BESA is helping the industry equip its workforce with qualifications for life via new style qualifications.

The air conditioning and refrigeration industries will also be well served by the BESA Conference, which comes at the end of a year that has seen unprecedented upheaval in the refrigerant marketplace. Graeme Fox, who is head of the industry’s professional register Refcom, will lead a session on The Future of Refrigerants.

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