John Smith at the FETA lunch.
After a three course meal, FETA chairman John Smith delivered a speech which addressed the current challenges affecting industry and detailed the association’s recent activities in response to these challenges.
Mr Smith acknowledged the present geopolitical climate and first raised the topic of Brexit as the backdrop against which many industry issues lie.
Noting the complexity of negotiations, particularly in regard to trade-related factors, Mr Smith declared FETA’s support for the British Standards Institution’s (BSI) ambition to stay within the broader European standards system, and its intention to further strengthen its links with the BSI as the UK’s transition out of the EU continues.
Inevitably, F-Gas Regulation was also on the agenda. With a quota system firmly established and the F-Gas phase-down underway, Mr Smith stated: “We continue to support DEFRA as they consider how best to deal with the quirks of the F-Gas quota system.
“We made a submission and have given oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the UK’s progress on reducing F-Gas emissions.
“In order to meet phase-down requirements of the F-Gas regulations, the use of refrigerants with significantly lower global warming potential is an inevitable requirement, and it’s clear that low flammability refrigerants will play a major part here.
“Our A2L refrigerants working group has released guidance, offering an overview of the new refrigerants, as well as practical advice on their safe use. It seeks to signpost the fact that these refrigerants will play an increasing role in the market over the coming years; particularly with regard to air conditioning.”
Mr Smith stressed that education and training are essential in dealing with the F-Gas problem – and, indeed, key to securing the future of industry more generally: “We continue to support the view that training goes hand in hand with recruitment and is a key element in ensuring the future success of our economy.
“Whilst on the subject of training, I want to recognise the efforts of our members who continue to recruit and retain the next generation of professional engineers and I’m glad to say that this year, FETA is supporting our second Arkwright Trust scholar and we continue to support and promote various Trailblazer Apprenticeship schemes.”
Turning his attention to payment practices in the construction industry and the Carillion collapse which rocked the sector, Mr Smith said: “This really did illustrate the depth of the problem.”
He reflected on FETA’s response, explaining that its ductwork and building controls associations have been instrumental in striving for reform of construction industry payment practices, giving full backing to the Aldous Bill which seeks to ensure that cash retentions owed to suppliers are held in trust. The Bill will receive its second reading in Parliament on 27 April.
There is no denying that recent months have been trying for the construction industry, which has also felt the impact of the Grenfell Tower tragedy that took place in June last year.
Calling the disaster a “dreadful milestone” in the UK’s built environment history, Mr Smith endorsed Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future report and championed the work of FETA’s Smoke Control Association in contributing to formal enquiries.
Mr Smith declared: “Our Federation is ready to contribute further by playing our part in addressing the key areas identified for change. There is little here that we haven’t been saying for years and it is just so sad that it takes a tragedy of such proportions to act as a catalyst for change.”
Finally, Mr Smith addressed a topic which affects all of FETA’s associations: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Due to the wide-ranging impact of IAQ, a pan-FETA group – led by HEVAC president Nick Howlett –has been established to coordinate FETA’s response.
Mr Smith said: “This is a complex issue for any government, extending as it does across a number of areas such as public health as well as building regulations.
“Public awareness is growing and our working group will be looking to harness that.”
The guest speaker Steph McGovern followed Mr Smith with an entertaining and engaging speech incorporating anecdotes from her work so far and topics that she is passionate about. She was very well received by the audience, most notably her comment regarding young people's opportunities: “We don't value vocational training enough,” she said, “someone with an apprenticeship should be valued the in the same way as someone with a degree.”