Comment – I do declare!

It is that time of the year when many of us will be heading to the Hellhole that is the modern airport ahead of our summer vacation. Assuming you can navigate the mountains of unclaimed and misplaced baggage, the queues of disgruntled and frustrated holidaymakers and the TV news crews there to capture the chaos for posterity, you may eventually make it to the check-in desk.

And there, you will be forced to answer several of the most pointless questions ever devised by man (or woman).

“Did you pack your bag yourself?” Assuming that your house is not blessed with a team of dedicated elves that take care of such menial tasks on your behalf, my guess is that most of us answer in the affirmative.

“Have you eft your bag unattended?” This is the UK. If I had left it unattended, it would now be in the possession of a thief with its contents currently being offered for sale on eBay.

“Does your bag contain any of the items on this list?” I’ll be honest; I have never read the list from top to bottom but I have a pretty good idea what it contains. Most, if not all, of us will answer in the negative.

Has anyone ever responded to that question with the admission that their bag contains a kilo or two of high-grade cocaine; sufficient cigarettes to open a tobacconist shop; or all the key components required to make an improvised explosive device? My guess is probably not.

And then, when you’re on your way home again and you are faced with the coloured customs channels at the airport, how many of you walk past the Nothing to Declare aisle, throw up your hands and shout: “It’s a fair cop. I am hauling contraband and illegal substances but the weight of guilt is too much for me to bear. I will come quietly”?

The fact is that declarations are meaningless; an exercise in administrative futility. They are about as useful as a Russian cease-fire or a footballer’s long-term contract.

So when news broke on Friday that the National Federation of Demolition Contractors was considering the introduction of an “anti-collusion declaration’ for its members to sign, the demolition sector and the construction industry it serves responded not with a joyous shout of “we are saved from bid rigging and price fixing” but with a shrug of indifference.

Now admittedly, the NFDC’s proposed anti-collusion declaration is not yet cast in stone. It is apparently yet to be verified by something called the “executive board” (whatever that is. But assuming it is ratified, it raises several questions.

First and foremost, is that declaration just a piece of paper that needs to be signed once or twice a year, in which case it is worthless. Or does the declaration carry more depth and heft; in which case it will place an additional bureaucratic burden upon member companies that were not a part of the bid rigging ring. A handful of member companies are found to have been involved in bid rigging but the entire membership must pay the consequences? How is that fair?

Then there is a sentence in the Building magazine that brought these plans to light in which NFDC CEO Howard Button proclaims: “Members found not to be complying with the declaration would then face suspension from the NFDC, with suspended members and the reason for their suspension clearly identified on the organisation’s website for clients to see.”

Well eight of the 10 companies named by the CMA have already admitted involvement. Where is their suspension? Where is their black mark for all to see? And, while we’re about it, where is the black mark against the companies that have been involved in a fatal accident? Or is collusion considered more serious than a worker fatality?

There are more questions than there are answers, most of which will have to wait until the “executive board” convenes and passes judgement. But I do have one final point.

Assuming the Federation presses ahead with its anti-collusion declaration and assuming that it is more than just a tick on a piece of paper, who will administer, manage and police this belated bid for respectability? Will it require additional NFDC staff? If so, how is that funded? Does that mean a hike in membership fees for those member companies that were investigated but were found innocent or those companies so squeaky-clean that the CMA didn’t even bother running a rule over them?

As Foghorn Leghorn would say: “I say boy. I do declare”.