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BESA pays tribute to Sir Michael Latham

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

Rob Driscoll, legal and commercial director at BESA.

The former MP and chairman of Willmott Dixon wrote his influential report Trust and Money followed closely by the government-commissioned Constructing the Team in 1994, which was the precursor to a wide ranging modernisation of the sector, and eventually major parts of the Construction Act.

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”.

He added: “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.”

Sir Latham 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 Construction Industry Training Board and Construction Skills until 2010.

Mr Driscoll continued: “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. 

“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.

In his 1994 report, Sir Latham stated: “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.” 

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

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