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17 April 2008


Manila Joe

Unfortunately, in the real world construction companies in general are unwilling to pay for 'ivy-league research' hence a government funded agency.They would quite happily march in their own footprints as long as they could make a profit.Thankfully a combination of regulation and enlightened clients keep them from marking time.


I’ve been at BRE for several years, having joined just prior to its privatisation. For this reason I’m probably as well qualified as anyone to respond to Mark's observations. For obvious reasons I’ve posted this response anonymously!
Many of us are concerned by BRE’s current direction and feel that we are in danger of sacrificing what makes us unique and valued, in the pursuit of growth and profit. No one is objecting to BRE making a profit, or that we should be trying to grow in a controlled manner. It is the growth at all cost agenda which worries many of us.
Also, as BRE becomes more commercially aggressive in the market-place, there are growing tensions between BRE and ‘the industry’ who are increasingly viewing us as a hostile competitor, rather than as a source of objective unbiased advice.
Despite the word ‘research’ being in our name, BRE in reality now undertakes very little high quality research, or technically challenging work. I am very concerned about the current focus on what our senior management refer to internally as “sausage machine” activities such as grant administration, programme management, training, CSH maintenance, and developing and running new certification schemes.
The growth of these activities and the reduction in more fulfilling and scientifically challenging work could go some way to explain the very high levels of staff dissatisfaction and turnover which BRE suffers from. It’s very worrying that we are currently losing 10%-15% pa of our key staff.
We are not only losing junior staff, but experienced and high profile people as well. In the course of the last year we have lost three outstanding Directors, including; David Strong (Managing Director of BRE Environment), Jonathan Fair (Director of BRE Scotland) Graham Couchman (Building Technology Group Director).
Although these issues are concerning, the most important issue is the lack of accountability which BRE suffers from. BRE is owned by a registered charity, the BRE Trust. There are 7 Trustees under the Chairmanship of Sir Neville Simms. However, the Trustees leave the day to day running of BRE to the management team. It is this ‘hands-off’ approach which gives real cause for concern, since it has allowed BRE to become the personal fiefdom of one person, Dr Martin Wyatt.
Dr Wyatt is probably not known to many readers, since he keeps a very low profile and is entirely absent from the national (or international) stage. However, it was Wyatt who led the winning bid at the time of BRE’s privatisation and it is Wyatt who has been the main beneficiary.
At the time of privatisation in 1997 BRE had a turnover of about £37million (allowing for inflation equivalent to about £49 million today). Turnover in 2006/07 was £39 million, a reduction in real terms of 20% over the past 10 years. The Chief Executive's salary (according to the 1996/7 accounts) was £75,000. Last year (2006/7) Wyatt earned £230k –this represents an increase of over 300% over 2006/7 despite BRE now being a much smaller company than it was 10 years ago!
In the course of the last year Wyatt has restructured the company so as to give up any responsibility for day to day management. Wyatt and a fellow director Guy Hammersley now enjoy a great sinecure. They serve no useful function, but between them will this year receive remuneration of over £500,000. Since the two non-Executive Directors were both appointed by Wyatt (and between them receive fees of over £75k pa) we cannot rely on them to call Wyatt to account. Also, there are no signs that the Trustees have got a grip on this. No one would begrudge the Directors being rewarded at an appropriate level if they are making a real contribution to the business, but what many of us find it very galling is to be hectored by Wyatt to work harder and to grow the business, when he contributes so little to the company.
I think Mark is correct in his observation that BRE is in danger of losing its way in the pursuit of a macho agenda of uncontrolled growth. We are currently trading on our reputation and unless we return to our core values of delivering scientific and technical excellence, quality will continue to suffer and we will further alienate the industry. Also, we will continue to have real difficulty in recruiting and retaining the best people.
Regrettably, we seem to be becoming nothing more than a jobbing consultancy and certification company. Given our brand, history and heritage this is a real indictment of a few individuals on the Board, who without appropriate checks and balances have maximised their own rewards and have become obsessed with a belief that growth is everything.
We can only hope that the Trustees take their responsibilities more seriously and take a long hard look at these issues, before the damage to our reputation and standing becomes irreversible.
A good starting point would be for the Trustees to remove Directors who serve no useful role or function and also to replace the two existing ineffectual and complicit Non-Executive Directors. This might help to introduce some real accountability and deliver sustainable growth and profit. It will also ensure that the Trustee and staff interests are being safeguarded in a genuinely independent manner.

 Jimmy J

A strange thing has happened. I’ve logged-on to comment on BREbloke's recent contribution to this Blog, but it has mysteriously vanished. Not quite sure why its been censored since it contained many sensible and valid comments about BRE and its current direction. I can only presume that the ‘powers that be’, at BRE have ‘persuaded’ Building to remove it. Perhaps whoever moderates this site could explain why its been removed?!

I worked at BRE for 3 years after graduating and left feeling very disappointed and disenchanted.

In my opinion BRE has lost its way and it is no longer the centre of technical excellence it once was. Also, in comparison to the other leading consultancies BRE’s treatment of graduates leaves a great deal to be desired. There is no effective graduate development programme and when I challenged BRE on this issue the response was “graduates don’t have to work for BRE and if you want to leave that’s o.k. since it allows us to bring in ‘fresh blood’!” Dickensian, or what?

When I was at BRE, they applied for an ‘Investors in People’ Award. Not surprisingly they failed to get it. I’m not sure if they have tried again, but given the current obsession with achieving growth over staff welfare and development, I doubt it.

Phil Clark

Hi Jimmy,
Many thanks for the comment. I took the decision to take the comment down as I was concerned over a couple of lines that I felt uncomfortable with (a little too personal and making a claim that I felt was hard to justify/back up factually). This was entirely my decision. I meant to make an edit and republish. It is after all clearly an honestly held opinion that should be up on the site, so your comment is appreciated.
Obviously I would be keen for the BRE to respond to the concerns made from BREman, either if there are any factual errors or to the main thrust of his argument.

peter warm

As a research student, back in the 1980s, trying to get a grip on energy use in buildings, BRE were my heroes (Admittance method, Harrington Lynn. etc etc..)

As an Energy Consultant, in the 1990s, I bid and carried out work for them (BREDEM modelling, heating installer training,..)

Now, I see money not value as the byword of BRE (Bidding on own tenders, Green guide pay up or you get a C, CSH % saving stupidity)

After reading the anon posting above I'm just astonished at my naivety in thinking it was just me.

Now the rape of BREs reputation is becoming less like the emperors clothes and we are all realising how we’ve lost an excellent name and research centre, What do we do?

Step one is probably to admit the failure of the privatisation policy – we need an unbiased national building research centre even more since we're now dealing with tens of “innovative” building methods.

Step two?
Start up BRE2.

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