HVCA Centenary bridges a hundred years

Published:  10 August, 2004

HVCA 100
Communications specialist Roy Sheppard plays the part of the founder of HVCA a hundred years ago as he interacts with delegates at the HVCA Centenary Convention.

When the ‘dazed’ first president of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association, David Mein Nesbit, ‘materialised’ in the present at the start of the HVCA Centenary Convention to be greeted by today’s director Robert Higgs and told where in time and space he was, he immediately wanted to know what progress had been made on the issues prevailing when the association was first founded.

Played by communications specialist Roy Sheppard, David Nesbit wanted to be told of progress over the ensuing hundred years on payments, onerous contract conditions, retentions and demarcation.

The immediate silence, followed by laughter, told all!

‘What have you been doing for the last hundred years?’ demanded David Nesbit.

In reality, much in building-services contracting has changed. The demarcation issue over whether plumbers or fitters should install heating pipework has long been resolved. But Robert Higgs had to tell David Nesbit that it took 70 years!

The news that it was the trade unions that helped solve the demarcation issue astounded the former president of an association that had been set up to resist them. He was surprised indeed to learn of the level of co-operation that now exists between HVCA and Amicus.

Retentions remain a problem, but Robert Higgs emphasised the contrast between 20% retentions and the ‘more realistic’ 3 to 5% today. Indeed, Robert Higgs feels that a century on ‘we are on the verge of eliminating retention moneys because so many interests are recognising they are not the way to do business’.

Profitability levels have fallen massively in 100 years. David Nesbit was amazed that the 20% profitability levels of his day had fallen to just 2 to 3% today.

‘Why not put your money in the bank?’ he demanded.

‘Because members enjoy their work so much!’ responded Robert Higgs.

The forerunner of the HVCA was born in controversy. Today, the prevailing spirit is of working together in addressing and solving problems. ‘When we act collectively with other associations, our influence is huge,’ Said Robert Higgs.

Other evidence of recent moves towards co-operation and updating attitudes include Sir Michael Latham’s report of 1994 ‘Constructing the team’, which led to legislation to improve conditions for the industry and encourage working together.

That gave David Nesbit the chance to ask Sir Michael himself what he is ‘passionate about’.

The answer came quickly: ‘That the industry should actively work together for the whole project, not just part of it.’

‘To get a better project, you need specialist engineering contractors involved at an early stage, working through the project. This is a new concept,’ said Sir Michael.

‘There is a need for people to see themselves not as a hierarchy but as part of a team. I like to think not of down the supply chain, but along the supply chain.

‘The client should be at the core of the project — not excluded from it.

‘Things in 10 years have not turned out as well as I hoped, but better than they were,’ he concluded.

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