BIFM partnership with DWP may prove an ill-advised and short-lived union

Las Vegas WeddingRather like someone who collects friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter with the obsessiveness of the avid lepidopterist completist, news reaches us from the British Institute of Facilities Management concerning yet another partnership. Not content with the recently announced merger with Asset Skills, the Facilities Management Association and the Cleaning and Support Services Association, this time it’s the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) that is the object of BIFM’s affections. Not that BIFM are considering moving in to Caxton House and a run for Parliament in 2015 (at least not that we are aware of). But while BIFM are, understandably, trumpeting the signing of this joint agreement, the DWP are not. In fact, if one searches on using the search terms “BIFM” or “British Institute of Facilities Management” no results are returned.

The Partnership agreement is not available at the time of writing so we can only draw inference from the BIFM statement. It is billed as a shared agenda and the cosy nature of relationships in the Lobby certainly results in favourable outcomes for many of those personally involved. The Minister for State, Mark Hoban MP, who I am sure is beyond reproach, has 15 years working for PwC under his belt and has been in and around the machinery of government since 1980, so he’ll have seen at first-hand how to get the credit while someone else does the heavy lifting and takes all the blame when the wheels come off or when initiatives are quietly mothballed. Industry bodies are a useful vehicle through which Government can demonstrate their pro-business credentials.

Hoban’s comment of “building on the successes made to date” might be seen by cynics as recognition that there is already a little reflected glory to bask in. In my opinion at least, one of the roles of a professional body is to hold the government to account for policies that restrict growth and career opportunity in any given industry sector. They should also be the repository for all of the shared skills, knowledge and experience and be ruthlessly independent. So, as a fierce supporter of the industry I think this announcement is a mis-step. I don’t consider myself to be, as Jim Lawless put it at ThinkFM recently, sitting at the bar criticising the jockeys although some will surely disagree.

The list of activities which the Partnership Agreement covers is a list of what I would consider to be the business as usual activities of this sector’s industry representatives and perhaps reflecting the gravitational embrace into which BIFM has fallen is this sentence in the announcement: “Any employers who wish to engage with DWP following the Partnership Agreement should contact” So if I’m an employer with an interest in the development of career opportunities in the sector for my employees I should contact a Government department rather than the body that is seeking to cement its position as the professional body for facilities management in the UK and to represent and promote the interest of members and the wider FM community.

That is a curious thing for BIFM to have written on its own website and which is being helpfully repeated elsewhere. Gareth Tancred, CEO of BIFM, is quoted as saying: “The Agreement is the first public step of many great initiatives we have been evolving for some time behind the scenes [with more to follow].” It is sincerely to be hoped that there has been a high degree of consultation across the profession in the developments of these cloak and dagger-style initiatives. Otherwise, how can they claim to be representative if they’ve been thought up in a vacuum? BIFM would do well to look at what Peter Cheese has been doing since his appointment as CEO at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development as an example of how to re-engage with your membership and with the ecosystem around them. I know that the professionals within our sector would enthusiastically ‘hack’ FM to within an inch of its life if invited in to do so.

It has also been reported that the Partnership Agreement will be reviewed on an annual basis, to ensure that it continues to reflect the fast paced facilities management market and employment needs. At the request of which party? One assumes this is the DWP’s pre-nup in the hope of a quickie divorce should BIFM prove irreconcilably different to expectations.


Simon HeathSimon Heath is a freelance illustrator and commentator on workplace and facilities management issues and was formerly Head of Operations, Global Workplace Strategies at CBRE. For more of Simon’s worldly, wise and witty writing on all things work and workplace, visit his blog