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Breaking into the mainstream

29 January 2015


Well, you know what they say – no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. And this year, on Thursday 7th May, we’ll get our first opportunity in five years to prove that old maxim right.


How times have changed since the last general election. When it was held in 2010, Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, the London Olympics an expensive disaster just waiting to happen, and facilities management a discipline woefully underappreciated by government. Of course, we all know what happened next: David Cameron got the keys to No.10, the London Olympics were a huge success – and facilities management was a discipline woefully underappreciated by those in government.


Actually, forgive me, we all know that’s a cheap jibe. The Olympics did of course help shine a much-needed light on the impact of FM on organisational performance and beyond, and as for government awareness of FM the 2010-2015 term has been one of the sector’s most successful – in terms of recognition, if not full appreciation.


It’s interesting to chart FM’s development by parliamentary term. FM was ‘born’ during the 1980s during the seemingly endless sequence of Conservative election victories that led to (among other things) compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) for public sector services. The BIFM was set up in 1993, a year into John Major’s first full elected term as PM. CCT continued unchecked, but when Tony Blair took office in 1997 it was replaced with the concept of ‘Best Value’ that, if anything, increased the breadth of public services opened up to operation by private service providers. 


The Blair years also saw the growth in size and stature of private FM service firms – but little clear indication from government that it recognised the value of the sector to the economy. All the while the BIFM and others set about highlighting the absurd gap between the cost of the FM service (both in-house and outsourced) and the organisational value to be derived from it.


Then came 2010, and the first coalition government since the 1970s. Arguably, the fixed 2010-2015 parliamentary term has seen more change and greater recognition of FM’s influence than any other parliamentary term since the 1980s. One obvious factor has been the government itself becoming involved through its decision to introduce Soft Landings, thus putting operational lifecycle performance at the heart of central government construction projects. Although still a work in progress, just having the debate around the idea has been enough to raise FM’s profile to new levels. Other milestones in the last five years include having a notional gross domestic product figure attributed to FM activity (upwards of 5 per cent – some ‘hidden sector’, that, although real research is still going on to flesh those figures out).


We’ll probably have to wait until the early days of the 2015-2020 term before the impact of soft landings is truly tested and expanded on. But there’s plenty of other activity to suggest that, whatever your politics, this year’s election will be a major milestone. Here’s hoping the 2015-2020 term will include further breakthrough acknowledgement of FM from government and beyond.


Martin Read is managing editor at FM World