Standardising procurement and tendering, collecting health and safety statistics and cutting diesel costs are the three starting goals of the National Contractors Forum's (NCF) steering committee.
Since ISS Facility Services Landscaping managing director Phil Jones was elected as its first chairman in January, the NCF has been talking with members about the key business issues they face. The procurement and tendering process sees contractors completing many diverse pre-qualification questionnaires and invitations to tender, Jones explained.
"We're looking for some standardisation across those, seeing if there's any mileage in putting together a standard pack of information that local authorities could use across the UK," he said. "It's going to take quite a while but highways contractors have just done it, so there is a precedent."
Diesel is another big cost for members. Currently agriculture businesses can use the lower-duty red-dyed diesel in their machinery, while road vehicles must use the more expensive white fuel. Although landscape machinery may spend 95 per cent of its time in the field, five per cent of time on the road means it is classed as a road vehicle and must pay a higher price. "There's very little difference but the Government won't give us the same benefits as agriculture," Jones pointed out.
Although cheaper fuel would save local authorities money on grounds maintenance, "the Government will probably take the view that it's not much of a saving for them because what they get back in terms of (lower) price they lose on duty", said Jones. "It's going to be a big fight."
The lack of overall health and safety statistics in the industry is the NCF's third concern. Construction and farmers collate safety statistics but there is no equivalent in horticulture or grounds maintenance, said Jones. "Overall industry statistics don't exist because there's no co-ordination between any of the players in the industry. So if we're in a marketing or post-tender presentation with a client and we're asked what our accident statistics are, we've got no benchmark. We can't say we think they're good in relation to the industry, or bad, and we can't benchmark ourselves, outwardly or inwardly."
Gathering statistics will require a mindset change from some in the industry who hold their accident records close to their chests, said Jones. Although he appreciates that the information is commercially sensitive - "if anyone in the industry has an accident they don't want to shout about it" - it is also important to see who is performing poorly so that the well-being of their employees can be improved.
"It's our responsibility to get everybody home safely at the end of the day, not just in our business but for the industry," he said. Work is now being carried out on how to collect commercial information from each company anonymously and collate it through an independent body.
The steering committee is "still in its infancy" but its members are on board and will meet during the autumn. The NCF is still partnered with BALI but is moving to become more self-driven. It was set up by the country's landscape and grounds maintenance contractors but now hopes to pull in more smaller businesses.
"My view is that 25 years ago (ISS) were a very small contractor", said Jones. "We benefited from being part of BALI as a trade association because we grew with them. So why would you not let smaller contractors who have national aspirations join?" he asked.