John White, Chief Executive of the Timber Trade Federation, gives a very personal view of the things happening in the wood industry. To comment on this blog write to John direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
11th October 2012
Well I for one am both pleased and disappointed the Political Party Conference season is over. I love politics watching and this time of year is a real feast. It is also deeply frustrating and exhausting even if the TTF don't do the Conferences. Frustrating because so much of what you hear is rhetoric, and exhausting because so much of what you hear has to be analysed like ancient runes for clues as to the direction in which the parties are travelling.
I think, if you are in anyway interested in what I think, that all the parties basically held prolonged election broadcasts. The LibDems have desparately got to find an identity that will set them apart and then go some to get some eye-catching and popular policies to trump the betrayal (as many will see it) over a number of their manifesto commitments last time round. They tried but, for me, have a long way to go.
For the other two I thought we saw a welcome but limited exposition of values. For too long the debate between our major parties has been over who can be the best manager. That continues, particularly in the rather tiresome and tawdry politicial name calling, but I thought Ed Miliband emphasised the more socialistic (with a small 's') aspects of Labour's nascent political agenda.
On the Tory side I thought David Cameron, whether you agree with him or not, played a blinder. Highly populist when coupled with some of the other announcements of the week on bashing burglars and holding a referendum on Europe, it was a deeply personal speech and authoratively delivered. I feel I have a much better sense of where the Conservative party sits on the political spectrum. In performance terms he was Romney to Milliband's Obama. I fully expect the opinion polls to do as they have done in the US.
What does that mean for us in the wood industry? In answer I must acknowledge that my thinking was significantly enhanced by a conversation yesterday with Home Builders Federation boss, Stewart Baseley, who is man always worth listening to. So what do I think? Steady as she goes economic policies (a good thing); competency (despite some pretty recent very public cock-ups!), and some very helpful policy decisions in construction and housing that have and will have a significant impact on this sector. I hope to see some more money come through in the Autumn Statement as they have at last seemingly got that construction delivers economic growth. Don't hold your breath though and don't blame me if Osborne keeps his hands in his pockets.
1st October 2012
I had the privilege of listening to our Head of Technical and Trade Policy, Nick Boulton, brief one of our large members this morning on the Construction Products Regulation which becomes law next Summer.
'So What?' has been a not unfamiliar refrain from some quarters. Well it is quite a big 'what'. Although those companies that have been behaving properly under the current Construction Products Directive should have no worries about the improvements the Regulation brings about, the key change for me will be the ease with which any CE mark applied by a manufacturer links up to a Declaration of Performance which gives details of the claim the manufacure is making about their product. For example what standards it has been tested to. What it doesn't do is give you the actual test data but given the DoP it is an easy next step to ask for it.
All of this is important because liability may well fall on others in the supply chain, not just the manufacture, for the claims being made. Trading Standards and Building Control will be paying close attention because the CE mark is going to be the principal way a company can show compliance with the Construction Products Regulation.
I am no expert, like Nick, but I strongly suggest if you haven't done so already, to get yourself up to speed on this important piece of legislation. Your first port of call should be the TTF website.
21st September 2012
Reminded that I haven't issued a blog for quite some time, I have been shamed into writing down a thought or two about the past couple of days in Stockholm. I have been here as part of the Wood for Good Board meeting with our Swedish Colleagues at Skogsindustrierna/Swedish Wood. Having discussed the progress on the current UK Wood for Good programme and the plans for our Wood First campaign, we were treated to a fascinating tour of some of the wooden buildings in Stockholm. From the glulam and glass facade at the Karolinska Institute, to a block of flats made from a systemised timber frame system, it reinforced the fact that there is little you can't do with timber.
I was particularly taken with the flats. These were modular, factory produced wooden 'blocks' that could be assembled in anyway you like; construcuted in half the time of concrete structures and weighing at least half less. The finishing was perfect and, as it was explained to us, small improvements were readily suggested by the workers on site and fed through to the factory for inclusion in future designs. The cost comparisons were interesting - part achieved by the systemisation of the process and in part by the build time. Energy performance was also excellent. This has to be the future and I strongly believe that timber systems of what ever kind are THE modern building solution.
Another interesting aspect of the visit was that both the project/site managers that showed us round were women. Whilst we were told that construction industry was still male dominated in Sweden I would guess there was a greater proportion of women in construction than in the UK. Does it matter? Of course it does! I have since my first day at the TTF been struck by the lack of women I come across in the industry. When I do, it reminds me that we are missing out on the contribution of a huge number of quality people to the bright future I believe, and keep saying, this industry is going to enjoy. Isn't that just plain dumb?
21st February 2011
A few close friends (whom I knew wouldn't laugh) are aware that I am a Leyton Orient fan. After yesterday's fantastic game at Brisbane Road I am happily revealing the fact to anyone that will listen. And if I may borrow from the cliche cupboard for a moment, who could fail to enjoy David giving a Goliath a bloody nose.
The eponymous heroes of the tale are used frequently in any big versus small comparison and I couldn't help but draw the analogy when I saw LaFarge and Tarmac announce their marriage last week. That is one big company even when compared to some of the largest in the timber business. You can see where I am going...
1. Big isn't always best in business, particularly in emerging technologies/markets. As EcoBuild approaches there are some great examples of how fleet footed entrepreneurs can out perform large companies with oodles of resource behind them and that have become inert through sheer size. It would be wrong of me to name names but I am sure we can all think of many examples.
2. For representative organisations there is however a need for big companies to take leadership positions to help the industry move forward. In big mature industries that might mean two or three companies. In smaller sectors like ours that can mean a dozen or two, making the leadership position harder to conjure and bringing a major leadership role to the sector's trade associations.
Marrying the two positives can be enormously powerful. I detect in our wood and wood products supply chain at the moment some of that entreprenerial frisson as companies begin to see the many ways wood can out compete other building materials as we attack the sustainable construction agenda. I also get a sense that the industry is increasingly coherent about resourcing the work that needs to be done by its representative bodies to postively shape the environment in which the competition will take place. I do hope I am right. As I have said many times before I think wood is on the edge of a golden age of prosperity if we grasp the opportunities with both hands.
If you fancy a chat about some of these issues the TTF is again sponsoring the Timber Works area at EcoBuild in the South Hall. We are on stand 4 - right by our cafe if you need a tea and a sit-down!
23rd November 2010
A few days in Europe certainly brings a new perspective to the work we are doing in the UK. It was the CEI-Bois General Assembly last week. CEI-Bois represents the European producer/saw milling end of the supply chain. It is the largest of our European organisations and has some good executive staff under the leadership of Filip de Jaegar. Based in Brussles it can and does underatake useful lobbying activities.
What struck me amongst the various presentations from our European colleagues was how advanced some of the thinking and some of the activities they were doing actually were compared to us in the UK. For example, the Austrians lead a programme called Building with Wood for CEI-Bois members. Attracting hundreds of thousands of Euros from businesses, organisations and the EU, they have produced and tested innovative products to address some of the barriers to greater wood use. They proposed another round of work over the next few years in a similar vein. Carbon efficiency, Eurocodes, the long term performance of wood and wood products. We can but dream...
But dream we should. I have been visisting members to take them through the TTF next five year plan. Whilst the resources available in Europe may not exist currently in the UK, by working together around common themes we can at least get some synergy out of the resources we do have. I know I have gone on about this before (in fact since the day I started in the industry) but it so blindingly obvious to me that our common interests across our supply chain far outweigh any differences in sector personality or product.
Encouragingly, some of the work with which I have been involved developing the next stage of Wood for Good's campaign has given me a lot of heart. Meeting regularly with industry colleagues to discuss how we promote wood and wood products has evinced, for me anyway, the possibility of a genuine supply chain co-operation around some of the issues we face. Harness that to the sustainable construction agenda and the need to decarbonise the supply chain and you can see a golden opportunity for our products.
One of the things we have said in our five year plan is that we will keep the energy levels high to bring this kind of work together. I would like to see us quickly take that to the next level and join more formally into a virtual Wood Industry Council (or something similarly named) that shares our collective intelligence about the cross cutting issues for the wood industry supply chain and how we might go about addressing them. I'd be interested in your views.
I come back from holiday to once again be struck by the visual images of a burning timber frame building. The Buillders Merchants Journal currently shows on their website a part constructed timber frame building going up in flames. This building site had apparently been dormant for 18 months, the developer had gone bust and it was, unsurprisingly, a regular target of vandalism. Building magazine has a full page editorial on the issue.
Of course some in the masonry sector, whose sole job seems to be to bang on about the fact that wood burns (the neanderthals worked that one out guys!), couldn't wait to tell anyone that would listen that timber frame is dangerous. And of course, they say, lots of wood for building comes all the way from Canada (er...no it doesn't!) and wood is illegal anyway (er...less than 3% and not in timber frame buildings).
The puerility of what we have to read sadly devalues a very seious issue. It would be wrong to respond by campaigning against brick and block, and indeed steel, on the basis of its unpredictable performance in fires. The real facts about performance have to be assessed and dealt with in a grown up way. There will be different responses at different stages of the build depending on the method and material of construction. For example, when there was an issue about the vulnerability of construction sites to vandalism and arson - the UK Timber Frame Association introduced its Site Safe scheme.
Thankfully, most people understand that fire is a serious issue and that all buildings need to be fire safe. And they are. A recent Government Report showed that last year roughly 800 fires were in timber frame buildings and 47,000 in other forms of construction. There is no greater likelihood of a fire in a timber frame building than in a building built with other mainstream materials. It also showed that one in eight fires in half constructed buildings were in timber frame. Sounds like a pretty good record to me when timber frame housing is roughly 25% of new build. The Report provides a lot of information that will help the timber frame sector, Government and others understand if there is an issue and what needs to be done about it.
Everyone involved in construction must do everything they can to ensure buildings are as fire safe as possible both in construction and in use. Where there are issues, irrespective of the building method, we have a responsibility to address them. It is too serious an issue from which to take putative commercial advantage.
With the holiday season upon us one would have thought that the work would ease up. Maybe it's just me but I seem to have been on the go since this time last year when I took a couple of weeks holiday. I will be starting this year's hols in a week or so (and to all you burglars out there I shall be staying at home) and it set me reflecting on the year just gone.
It was a tough one even though a certain degree of optimism returned following the dog days of early 2009. Activity began to return, but nowhere near 2007 levels, and upwardly spiralling prices added a new dyanamic to business management. Through that period I was pleased that so few companies went to the wall, which says someting about the resilience and business acumen of the timber trade.
It was a period also through which the TTF increased its membership - so we must be doing something right! One of those things was the launch of our new website (5 million hits as of yesterday and nearly 45,000 unique visitors). It has transformed the way we work, as we had hoped, and provided us with the tools to deliver quality knowledge into our members which in turn enhances their ability to do business. I do wish sometimes however that some members treated the information with the privilege it deserves. Too often I find non-members who seem to know a remarkably good deal about what is going on! Personally I don't think it is fair on those members that pay their subs to enable us to do the work we do, to find that those that don't get the privileged information that is meant to be member exclusive. It doesn't help us sell membership either; and that is something we are really looking to do in the coming year.
The year has also seen the passing of the European Due Diligence Regulation. Getting all TTF members signed up to our RPP means that TTF members are well ahead of the curve. It is likely that the RPP will be the only approved scheme available in the UK and confirms the belief we have held for many years that this is a business must have for the timber trade. Now, if you don't do it you could go to jail! Ouch!
Getting the whole industry behind ProSkills was a lot of hard work for a lot of people but is a real success for 20009/10 and about which I am really pleased. As I have said before this just shows what can be done when the wood and wood products supply chain works together. We have to do more of that in our public affairs and marketing activities.
Finally, the year has seen the relaunch of the wood for good campaign, Wood Co2ts Less. I continue to urge the whole industry to get behind it. It is a key generic message we need to continuously reinforce with our customers and our customers' customers. The 2011 strategy is being discussed at this moment and it will need companies and organisations in the industry to support it. If we don't, we give concrete, steel and plastic a free ride; a ride they are very well resourced to take at our expense.
I attended the latest meeting of the Wood Industry Board of ProSkills yesterday. The entire wood industry supply chain came together in 2009 and agreed to join with ProSkills, the Sector Skills Council for, amongst other things, the construction products sector. We were formally integrated into ProSkills on the 1st January this year and I have been hugely impressed with the progress we have made as a sector in addressing the many things we need to do to get our industry in a position where it can offer to its employees, prospective employees and employers the resources that will help drive wood industry businesses forward.
Much of what has been happenning is detailed, prosaic and in some cases mind-numbingly detailed but absolutely vital work assessing the current standards for jobs in the sector. This forms the basis of qualifications that get recognition and attract government training grants. This and associated work will take some time before the industry sees the real benefits in the form of a comprehensive, accredited suite of qualifications at all levels that can be used to develop people in the industry, but the work that is going on is necessary.
Having said that the ProSkills Academy is using what is out there already to provide an invaluable resource for employers. I saw on Tuesday the launch version of the Academy's new website, through which its services will be delivered, and will be getting a fuller demonstration next Thursday. Boy it's impressive and already has things employers can use, much of it for free. Such things as a software programme to manage staff development are professional, quality services any forward thinking company should want to access. ProSkills and the TTF will be marketing to TTF members in due course but do take a look at www.mps-academy.co.uk.
Education, Skills and Training are another part of the mix of industry developments that can take the wood and wood products industry forward.
As I said in my last blog, the carbon agenda in construction is going to dominate the wood indudstry's agenda over the next 5 years. This was confirmed by a meeting I had this week with Paul Morrell, the Chief Construction Adviser. Paul is an extremely interesting, intelligent and experienced man and is always well worth listening to.
As you know he has been working very hard with a wide group of senior construction industry people as part of the Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth Team (IGT). One of the key propositions in its interim report, published last month, surrounded embodied carbon and much of our meeting was on this subject. It has confirmed my belief that the wood and wood products industry is on the cusp of a major opportunity to build significant long term sales and systemic market share in those areas where we compete with steel, concrete and plastic.
There are a few things I think we need to do - and I'd love your thoughts on them:
The vision I have is of a much larger industry utilising a range of products and skills to deliver innovative solutions to our customers from the simple (e.g. Lavers' folding noggins that clip to wall frame systems) to the engineered (e.g. the cross laminated panels used in Murray Grove) to the complex (e.g. the award winning Savill Building in Windsor Park).
The TTF has a role alongside its sister industry organisations to help in creating this environment but it is only companies in the wood and wood products industry that can deliver.
If this is a vision you share then we need your support to deliver it.
I still don't want to talk about the election, much as I'd love to. Oh OK then.
Fascinating, wasn't it? But what does it hold for us as an industry? Generally a stable governemnt that gets to grips with the deficit with the emphasis on expenditure restraint rather than taxation is going to be good in all the circumstances. The question is can the coalition deliver? We'll have to see on that one. I expect the LibDem/Con love-in will turn to bitter infighting come the Comprehensive Spending Review in the Autumn when certain precious LibDem policy issues get slated for extinction. They'll probably stay together for the sake of the kids (i.e power) but it is going to make reading the political runes more interesting than it has been for many a long while.
Closer to home we have Caroline Spelman at Defra (she'll have a tough job matching Hilary Benn in my eyes), Andrew Mitchell at DFID and Chris Huhne at DECC. Not a bad bunch. We have worked with Huhne before and Defra Minister, James Paice, is a seasoned parliamentarian and all round good egg with whom we can do business. They were all on message before the election, we just need to make sure they stay so, particularly given that the coalition agreement contains reference to a ban on illegal logging. There is some behind the scenes stuff going on here I suspect involving our old Labour friend, Barry Gardiner MP, who admirably wants to keep this issue alive but who in my view remains misguided about the approach. The concern is that the new Government, lacking the knowledge of what has been going on up until now, tries to go it alone whilst we and the NGOs and Government continue working so hard in Europe to get a European wide ban as part of the due diligence legislation. It wouldn't be helpful. And with over 80% of wood being certified sustainable would it have any effect? As we have always said, try the European approach first - we can revisit the UK approach if that doesn't work.
I also just wanted to say that the whole issue of embodied energy and carbon is gaining a great deal of attention in the client, architect, engineer, NGO, Government field. The industry however can't simply rely on the good wood story. We have to innovate and explain, lobby and cajoule. I think this will be an essential part of our role in the next five years. But wherever you are in the supply chain, get to know your suppliers, your customers and your customers' customers and promote a joined up approach.
Guess what - I don't want to talk about the election! Why? Because I think there are more important rivers of strategic importance flowing through government than the colour of the next administration. These rivers flow from the Climate Change Act 2008 which placed legally binding targets for carbon reduction on the UK government - whoever holds the keys to Number 10.
The reason I am banging on about this (not again I hear some of you moan) is because last Tuesday I was at a meeting of the Shadow Construction IGT organised by the Construction Products Association. The IGT (Innovation and Growth Team) concept, comprises a BIS enabled group of senior people from a particular industry, in this case construction, tasked with finding ways to innovate in and grow the sector. This IGT, under the auspices of the newish Chief Construction Officer, Paul Morrell, is tasked with taking the industry to low carbon construction. The CPA Shadow Group met with Paul on Tuesday.
Big deal. We've all heard of this low carbon building, zero carbon hubs, Codes for Sustainable Homes, stuff ad nauseum, what's going to be different? Who knows, but my hunch is this work is going to be far more influential in delivering low carbon construction.
Firstly, it is originated firmly within government.
Secondly, the participants list reads like a who's who of people who matter.
Thirdly, the Climate Change Act is legally binding and (inefficient) buildings are big emitters of CO2.
Fourthly, the meeting last week was held on the back of the IGT's interim report which contained a series of propositions. You should read them. The thinking behind them is persuasively sound.
Finally, Paul Morrell strikes me as the kind of person who can deliver.
As I have said many times before, the environmental, sustainable, carbon agenda that we all have to face up to currently is a great opportunity for wood. Not only do wood and wood products help buildings perform, the increasingly important measurement of embodied carbon is going to be one of the factors that will play a role in material and product specification. We win hands down on that one.
I will end with one of the key questions Paul had for the Shadow IGT - how do you get investment in low carbon technologies? One of the key answers was to innovate and bring new products to market that can deliver commercial returns. It is an important lesson for the wood and wood products industry. I don't think we think enough about product innovation. Well we need to, because as sure as eggs are eggs, concrete, steel and plastic industries are already hard at it.
Well it's nearly 24 hours since the budget and the dust has settled along predictable party lines. Whilst the speech was a party political broadcast for the Labour Party, you have to say, in that context, that Alistair Darling did quite well. I have never laughed at a budget before but when he read out the name of Belize as one of the countries with which we now have a reciprical tax arrangement I couldn't help myself. A touch of humour to cover the deep deep seriousness of the cuts that will have to come if the Country is not going to go bust? Maybe, but a touch of humour is a nice theatrical touch. As was the emphaises on the 2009/10 tax receipts - we are going to hell in an hand cart but let's be happy that the road is slightly smoother than we thought. Hmmm.
The fact of the matter is that despite what they say, none our our political parties dare, or even can, say where the axe is going to fall as fall it will have to. As soon as they do they will have to say that there is going to be a substantial price all of us will have to pay to fund the recession and measures taken to alleviate it. That doesn't really go down well with the voters. They are seeing who can keep quiet longest and hope they can get away with it until after the election.
I am actually quite excited about the forthcoming campaign because they will not be able to avoid this fundamental question. We will, as a result, potentially see genuine policy differences and genuine value differences emerging. That will be a change from yah boo debates about who is the best manager.
Are there any consequences for our sector? Macro economically and business wise yes, of course. We want a strong economy, a green economy and a business friendly administration. Down at the grass roots of buying and selling wood and wood products, no, despite a few helpful tax breaks and funds. We are going to have to work directly with our customers and customers' customers to grow our markets in the face of the competition. We are blessed with great carbon credentials. Let's get out there and market them irrespective of who is in power. Wood CO2ts Less.
Someone said at the PA/PR pitch presentations for wood for good that a blog was only worth having if it was kept up to date. Suitably nagged I took a look at the last one I wrote, astonishingly late last year. My belated New Year's resolution is to do this once a week.
The Wood Co2ts Less campaign was launched at EcoBuild and the campaign slogan is appearing in a raft of magazines and papers. Some of you may have seen the front page banner in the Sunday Times Business Section last week. There is no doubt in my mind the message is right and the delivery impactful. The task now is to leverage this advertising for our public affairs and public relations activities. Hence the pitches earlier this week.
I have to say they were excellent and very different, which is making the choice a difficult one. When it is made we will let everyone know and crack on with convincing the people that buy your wood, or who set the environment in which they do, of the unarguable carbon benefits of building with wood.
At the TTF it's a real hive of positive activity at the moment. Really good companies are joining or re-joining the Federation. I got a strong sense at the excellent TTF dinner last Wednesday, that the standing of the TTF is as high as it has been for some time. We are really getting the right message across to our target audiences and that means the reputation of wood and its suppliers is growing. This in turn should deliver greater use of wood - which of course is what we are all about.
The next job for me during 2010 is to start work on our next 5 year plan for 2011 to 2016. I would welcome any suggestions as what the TTF should be doing from anyone.
I had the privilege of visiting the Olympic site again this week. It wasn't the Park itself this time but the Olympic Village, rapidly being built by Bovis Lend Lease. I was there with BRE boss and ODA materials man, Peter Bonfield, and Dan Epstein, Head of Sustainability at the ODA, to talk to BLL about timber procurement.
You will know the ODA has worked with the industry to develop a procurement process that will deliver only certified timber to the Games. It works and may provide a useful object lesson for Government generally which has struggled to get its own procurement policy properly implemented across all the many faces of Government in the UK. BLL have gone a stage further and insist on FSC material. If that is not available the alternatives have to be specifically approved. I might not agree entirely with the approach but I do applaud the fact that they are taking a proactive and prominent stance on the issue.
Having said that the industry itself should also be applauded for the work it has done in the absence of much commercial demand to deliver sustainable timber to the market. We will launch next week a DFID funded Report that will show that well over 80% of timber in the UK is now certified. That is a real success story. And the remaining 20% is by and large verified legal or from non-controversial sources. I don't think it is too early to say that we are winning the war against illegal timber in the UK. Coupled with the upcoming due diligence legislation from Europe, as well as the potential boost we hope the Copenhagen climate talks will give to wood use, my earlier statement about this being the time for wood sounds a little less pompous than when I read it out to myself just now!
But guess what? The industry has still got a long way to go. Talking to the likes of Bovis Lend Lease and other contractors you get the sense that the responsible sourcing of timber just needs to be a given. They and other clients from Government down are now putting more and more emphasis on the social aspects of timber procurement. Government itself has just finished consulting on the inclusion of social considerations as part of the criteria it will use to judge certification schemes as sustainable. Companies want to know that what they buy and who they buy it from will not implicate them in anything that NGOs, the media and their own shareholders could throw back at them as unethical behaviour. We ignore these trends at our peril.
On the positive side I also get a sense that our customer base is more willing to listen to an industry that has come a long way in the 5 years or so I have been in the TTF hot seat. The work we have done on illeal logging, as evidenced by the report we will be publishing next week, has delivered. It has given us enhanced credibilty and we are recognised as authorative in what we say. A constructive dialogue with the likes of Bovis and other contractors will make achieving the success we all seek for this wonderful product a far easier one to deliver.
Thanks to 150 members who responded to our recent short questionnaire about enews. These are now all in the pot as we redesign the look of the publication. Given the overwhelming postiive response it will be more about look and style than content. I hope to get all that done before the end of the year. The draw for the bottle of champagne for one lucky respondent will be made next week. And despite the current economic climate we will be able to push the TTF budget to something more alluring than a Tesco Cava Reserve.
I have been visiting members and non members over the past few weeks including a trip to Northern Ireland. My thanks to everyone who gave up their time to see me. It was good to see and hear the enthusiasm companies have for their products, the impressive attention to health and safety and the understanding of the potential of wood and wood products to thrive in the low carbon economy on the back of our unique environmental credentials. But it was disappointing to hear once again how price can undermine so much good work. Competition is good and generally leads to a better deal for customers. But when that low price is derived from a cost base that does not include making sure wood comes from a legal source; that doesn't include proper treatment of employees; that doesn't include the correct testing for fitness for purpose etc then in my view that is unfair competition and the customer gets a bad deal and potentially a dangerous one. Good companies have to compete to stay in the market place and their margins get squeezed to nearly nothing whilst bad companies laugh all the way to the bank.
Well I think things are changing albeit slowly. More and more customers are getting the message that the TTF amongst others constantly promotes - namely that doing the right thing ultimately will be good for business. The days of the bad company are numbered.
The new website (through which this blog is written), and the database that sits behind it is now allowing us to communicate more effectively with members. Some have said to me that it can sometimes take a few clicks to get to items on the members area because you need a password and username. These have all been issued of course and we do from time to time remind members of their unique passwords and user names. The reason we don't do it frequently is security. Emails get passed on and will contain information that would allow someone to use your details to access the site. If anyone in your company wants to get to the members area let us know and we will give them access codes. If you do ever forget or lose your username or password then click on the forgotten password link. It takes a few seconds to get a new password.
Talking of emails have you been peppered by bizarre monologues from an ex-TTF employee from many years ago that I've never met called Charles Norman? I normally delete them but I did take a look at one the other day. Despite the intemperate language it actually cheered me up. The TTF has come a long way in the past few years. We are doing good stuff, looking forward and growing membership. Our information is solid and measured and we enjoy good industry support for the political influence we exert. Our relationship with TRADA and other organsations is excellent. These emails just remind me how far we have come. I hope you agree!
As always it is always a pleasure to talk so if you have any comments or thoughts about anything we do then pick up the 'phone.
When you read this I will be in Geneva meeting with a group of industry representatives and supplier organisation from around the globe at the 2nd International Timber Trade Federation Day. Last year's inaugral event was a great success. Supplier countries from China to Brazil to a number of African countires as well as producers and consuming countries from Western Europe and the US had very productive sessions analysing the implications of the Lacey Act and the proposals for due diligence legislation in Europe. I firmly believe it accelerated some of our suppliers towards getting verified legal and sustainable timber ready for our markets.
The evidence for that will be with you shortly. I have just taken delivery of a Report, funded by the Department for International Development, that marks a significant increase in the amount of certified wood consumed in the UK. I will talk more about this when it is published but look out for some good news.
This year's Geneva event will look at the tougher question of how certification and verification can actually be delivered, particularly in the tough economic conditions in which we find ourselves. I hope we can learn from practitioners and feed this back to suppliers via our members.
I have also been working hard over the past week or so with Stuart Goodall from Confor following up the very succesful meeting we had with industry leaders a couple of weeks back to re-launch wood for good under the Wood CO2ts less strapline. The industry will be receiving shortly a letter explaining what the campaign is hoping to achieve and how it is going to do it. Importantly it will also try to assess the level of financial support the industry can give the campaign. I urge you to support it. We know it works - just look at what wood for good did with the wooden pallet industry and look to the current success of the Wood Window Alliance campaign which is already using the Wood CO2ts less strapline.
And finally if you want proof the industry supply chain can work together I would point you to the work we are doing to integrate ourselves with the Sector Skills Council, ProSkills. That integration should be complete by the start of 2010 and from there on in a whole bunch of employer volunteers from every part of the supply chain will work to get a co-ordinated, relevant and much needed training provision for the industry.
In my next blog I will pick up the question of statistics and information in the industry. You will have seen our 2008 statistical review circulated this week and you will soon recieve our new look monthly statistical analysis. This is important work that we feed into government and one of the sources which businesses use to benchmark their performance and determine strategy. Despite the shortcomings of the data the resulting analysis is measured and as accurate as it can be and is based on a wide group of industry experts' views. We have a statistics panel reviewing whether the data we provide needs to be changed and I would welcome any sensible views on that.
Well here we are. Most of us are back from our vacations or staycations, browned or not so browned, and probably by now a bit browned off after a few days back with the noses to the grindstone. Mind you after the past twelve to eighteen months a nose to the grindstone that brings in a bit of business is very very welcome. And things do seem to be getting better. Despite prudent warnings a about double dips, Us and W's, there is clearly a sense of optimism about the future. The worst of the recession is over and restructured businesses, with an eye on cost and sensible investment plans are going to do well.
Particularly so in the timber industry. As I have said many times before wood is the material of the age, principally because of its environmental benefits. That is why the CO2 message will dominate the promotion of wood. As I explained in my last blog (and will say again in this week's TTJ) on 16th September the industy will have the opportunity to hear why it needs to invest in an innovative and bottom line benefit giving generic wood promotion campaign.
As we climb out of recession this is the time to invest in growth. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, today. The timber industry can increases the per capita consumption of wood significantly in this country if we pull together. Everyone in the industry now has the chance to do that.
Letters will this week be landing on the desks of industry bigwigs inviting them to come along to a meeting here at the Building Centre on the afternoon of 16th September. The letter, from wood for good, is the start of the relaunch of a generic wood promotion campaign.
As a major player and major past funder the TTF has been pressing hard for generic wood promotion to be a pillar of the the bright industry future many believe we have. Coupling its aesthetics, flexibility and fabrication credentials on the back of wood's environmental USP over competing building materials it's hard to disagree. But, and it's a big but, the industry has got to buy in to the campaign (and indeed the TTF). Otherwise our future will be one of perpetual second cousins to concrete, steel and plastic.
Those attending on the 16th will get to see just one way in which the careful exploitation of a key aspect of wood, its ability to absorb and store carbon, can be worked to generate influential PR and PA activities which create what we all want - a growing market for wood and wood products.
They will also need to think about how to fund the activity. We have some support already pledged but the more money the better, and the better the improvement to the bottom line of industry businesses. It's hard to prove the link between promotional activity and bottom line benefit, but I have never met anyone who didn't accept that there was one, unless that is they were trying to argue against coughing up a contribution! The old adage goes that half of money spent on advertising is wasted; the trouble is you can't tell which half. It doesn't say don't spend money.
It is also unfair and unreaonsable to expect the usual suspects to pay. We are all in this together and as with all the representative stuff we do it needs funding. Without money we can't deliver.
All that assumes of course that these initiatives are worth funding. That's just as true for generic wood promotion as being part of the TTF. It is a key question, sharpened by the current economic climate, but if it is worth funding, please don't shy away from your resposibility for shaping the industry's , and your own, future.
I simply can't believe how awful the weather has been over the past few weeks. And indeed how equally as awful the media coverage of the 'barbecue summer' forecast by the Met Office has been.
As someone who has to deal with the media as part of the job it is hard not to get really depressed about the quality of British journalism. I know how it works; I know what the media wants is a story and an angle, something that will tickle the interest of readers or listeners. But it seems that far too often the truth is a casualty. What is it they say, 'never let the facts get in the way of a good story'. In this case the Met Office never said it was going to be a barbecue summer. They said, in the context of highly uncertain long range forecasting, that it was more likely than not (odds on) that it would be a bbq summer. If you believe the media it was guaranteed.
Having said that the Met Office press release made the classic mistake of drawing public attention to a bit of light news in return for some publicity and not realising how it could all go wrong if the weather did.
It's much the same with tales of the economy. I have taken much of what I have read in the papers or internet or heard on the radio as a good indication of what is going on. Hold on a minute. The more positive sentiments are certainly nice to hear, but as I discovered this week in a tour of Scotland and the North East of England, not everything in the garden is rosy. This recession has plenty more bite to it and there will be some business casualties during this winter (which sounds rather like a forecast - I better watch out).
But for timber I think there are some reasons to be cheerful, or perhaps a little less depressed. Generally, it isn't going too badly for most of the companies I speak to at the moment. Log supply is a problem and the rapid price rises are unhelpful but understandble given the tightening of supply. However, timber is fashionable; market share for timber frame housing continues to grow; it looks like the RMI market has held up so far and gardening products were flying out the door for many merchants certainly while the sun was shining anyway. Our environmental credentials are increasingly recognised and our exposure to major contstruction infrastructure projects which will decline in number and value significantly, is less than concrete and steel.
I have also learnt on my travels that the timber industry responded quickly and appropriately to restructure their businesses in line with the new economic realities. We have not seen anything like the number of company closures I expected when this recession really got going last Autumn.
So now let the sun shine.
On Tuesday this week industry representatives got together to put the finishing touches to a to a plan which will see our sector forge a strategic alliance with Proskills, the Sector Skills Council for the process and manufacturing sector, which includes building products, furniture and paper to work through the programme needed for us to integrate our supply chain with ProSkills. Sector Skills Councils, (of which there are currently 25), are employer-led organisations that are tasked by Government, (in return for Government money), with developing the employees in the various sectors of UK industry, by having a positive impact on policies that affect skills, productivity and competitiveness. They do this by developing the standards employees need to reach to do jobs in the industry well, (these are known as National Occupational Standards), persuade awarding bodies to build those Standards into qualifications and persuading training providers to offer the appropriate courses. Most Sector Skills Councils do not deliver training courses themselves, but facilitate their development and delivery by others. They also work to attract people to the industry, which is an important issue for all of us.
Although a lot of work has already been done by the various partners in the Timber Industry Education and Training Group, there remains much work to be done, but with Proskills assistance, our task will now be much easier. There is a lot to do. We have to write the a Sector Qualification Strategy and present this to Government; build our presence on the ProSkills website and then do the jobs above specifically for the wood and wood products supply chain. First we need to appoint an Industry Board; this will direct the work of ProSkills on our behalf, set them targets and ensure delivery of benefits for our sector. keep them to account. Anyone interested in joining sitting on that this Board should let me know. For the next couple of months we also need to untangle the relationships between our the Standard Setting Body, UK Woodchain, and re-establish them with ProSkills. We are no longer supporting UK Woodchain. We have formally advised the UK Commission for Employment and Skills of this decision and of our commitment to work with Proskills – this is a very positive message to Government.
What pleases me about this initiative is the way the industry has worked collectively across the supply chain to achieve a common goal. It shows it can be done and gives me high hopes we can repeat the exercise with public affairs and wood promotion.
It also pleases me personally, because I really believe in the value of education and training. All the evidence shows that a better qualified workforce delivers bottom line benefits to businesses. This initiative could be a real game changer for our sector; but it must have employer support and input, whether that is sitting on the Industry Board, or just making sure you commit to developing the skills of your people through training. My task, Our task, working with Proskills, is to make that as easy as possible for employers. From what I have already seen, I believe that together with ProSkills, we can deliver that for you.
If you would like to find out more about this exciting initiative for our sector, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me, or have a look at the Proskills website at www.proskills.co.uk where you can find out more about their work.
I have been absolutely delighted at the response to our new website. Members and others have universally praised it. It is now up to us to keep it fresh and relevant. It is down to members and non-members alike to use it. Go on - have some fun!
I am writing this as Andy Murray seeks to be the first British man in a nearly 80 years to reach a Wimbledon Final. Good luck to him. But I remember when he first burst on the scene a couple of years ago how he courted controversy by saying he would support any opponent of England in a football match. As an Englishman and England supporter it got me thinking again about the nature of identity and the alliances we feel. Whilst I am English I am also British and unlike Murray always support Scotland (unless against England). It is the same for Wales and Ireland, North and South.
I am also, dare I say it European. I share a history and culture that is palpably European.
Why I am whittering on about this? Because strangely it has some bearing on the way the timber industry seems to function. Often we have companies and people in the timber industry that seem to take the parochial Murray approach. For me this isn't helpful. We have to embrace the other companies and organisations in our sector to assert a collective view and take collective action for all our benefit. Those connections will form at different levels whether national or European or indeed globally as in the fight against illegal logging.
Our industry has to pull together. Wishing ill on others who are in reality on the same side will leave us all the poorer.
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