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BESA praises Latham legacy

UK: The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has praised the legacy of Sir Michael Latham, who died on November 2 at the age of 74.

The former MP and chairman of Willmott Dixon was the author of the government-commissioned Constructing the Team report in 1994. Better known as The Latham Report, it sought to address the adversarial nature of the construction industry. It was a precursor to a wide ranging modernisation of the sector, eventually contributing to major parts of the Construction Act.

Sir Michael served as chairman of the Joint Major Contractors’ Group for many years and worked closely with BESA (then the HVCA) in an attempt to improve the lot of specialist sub-contractors. He also chaired the CITB and ConstructionSkills until 2010.

BESA’s legal and commercial director Rob Driscoll said that as a law student he studied the “legendary abilities of Sir Michael in bringing all parties involved in the built environment together in a common cause”.

“As an industry, we are privileged to have had Banwell, Egan, Farmer, Wolstenholm, Morell, Bentley and Bew, but Latham brought about seismic change like no-one before or since. He understood the many vagaries of the sector and was, therefore, able to represent the interests of all, which he did with patience and diplomacy.

“He worked tirelessly to reform an under-performing industry in dire need of modernisation and his legacy is the Construction Act, which was a transformational piece of legislation,” said Mr Driscoll. “However, he also recognised the problems around retentions as well as payment generally, and restated the need for trust accounts to be underpinned by legislation.”

He proposed the replacement of retentions with retention bonds that would reduce in value as each milestone section of the work was completed.

“Some clients may prefer a cash retention system, and that option should also be available for them, provided that the money is retained in a secure trust fund,” said Sir Michael in his 1994 report.

“Hopefully, due to recent government developments and consultations on retentions, we may finally realise his vision and preserve his legacy 23 years later,” said Mr Driscoll.

Sir Michael was elected conservative MP for Melton in 1974, standing down in 1992. He lived in Gretton, Northamptonshire, but went into a residential home in his final years after developing dementia.

A funeral service will be held on Monday November 20, at St James’ Church in Gretton, at 1.30pm.

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