Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Blame Game

I had an interesting Twitter conversation yesterday, with an electrician. Typical of many in the building trades he seemed like a solid, reliable type, unwilling to cut corners, certain that he is good at his trade. In the course of the conversation he revealed, unintentionally, that his knowledge of the Wiring Regulations – as opposed to acting on third party advice (e.g. what other electricians say) – was at best limited. He was similarly unaware of the name of the qualification his own company’s apprentices were currently undergoing. Naturally he felt his years in the trade meant that, compared to the current intake his own training had been superior to theirs

This is a common theme in all the construction trades; regulations are constantly under review and legislation often serves to sweep aside what was current thinking a moment ago and usher in yet more regulation changes. It can be hard to keep up to date. It is also true that in recent decades there has been a tendency to excise much of the academic rigour from training in order to get earners onto the books as quickly as possible. Qualifications appear to be valued above actual competence, so there is a drive to water down the requirements and really get that sausage machine cranking out certificates.

Along with the new-age goals of diversity at any cost and an insistence on the bizarrely anti-human notion of equality, the dreaded blight of Human Resources has been felt in all quarters. Ticking boxes as they go, stuffing quotas and slapping each other on the back, competence, pride in your work and aspiration take a back seat in many industries in favour of pursuing the politics of business, rather than the business itself.

As a result, many working people – and this is as true of architects, engineers, surveyors, specifiers, designers and yes, regulators themselves - are rewarded not so much for a job done well as, well, a job done. If it carries the right signatures, conforms to the correct protocols and ticks the politically expedient boxes it is considered to be legally beyond reproach. If you can stick an EU emblem on it as well, then all to the good.

This is the cause of Grenfell. Not any political party, not any one piece of legislation, not any single person on a single committee. Nobody is to blame because nobody has done anything outside of what their jobs required them to do. If, as seems likely, the guilty party is the flammable cladding itself, there will be nothing to gain from pursuing restitution from those who were only doing their job, as specified, in a world united by global mediocrity.

Cheapest, fastest, first to market policies; catchiest, zeitgeist-driven, catch-phrase fuelled non-jobs; quick fixes, ‘solutions-driven’ marketing and the placing of personality ahead of reliability. No wonder they say modern life is rubbish. Our schools churn out cookie-cutter replicants with the same casual attitudes to life – anything goes, all must have prizes, forget merit; meet the criteria, tick the box and collect your reward for turning up.

Who is to blame for Grenfell? So many people involved, across so many years and so many administrations make it nigh-on impossible to say. A lengthy and costly inquiry may point the finger of blame but I have little faith in a genuinely satisfactory outcome. Calling for ‘justice’ is just another manifestation of the idea that somebody else is to blame, somebody else must pay. Lessons must be learned, they say; when will that lesson be that sometimes shit happens?

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