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Hunt, Murdoch… at least there’s the British Construction Industry Awards to look forward to

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Paul Finch’s Letter from London: As culture secretary is discovering, blaming other people leads to the question of who appointed them

As the embattled culture secretary is discovering, blaming other people for mistakes made on your watch leads to the question of who appointed those people in the first place.

The prime minister ignored advice and persisted in making a former News of the World editor his press spokesman; the predictable embarrassment which followed has never gone away.

Mr Hunt is suffering in a slightly different way from the PM, because his special adviser was never an employee of Mr Murdoch. But his closeness to the Murdoch empire, as revealed in all those cosy emails about the BSkyB bid, is bad news for the culture secretary.

A special adviser is special because he or she has privileged access to their minister, and does not owe the same obligations to impartial behaviour as do civil service press officers.

It is notable how Mr Murdoch has tried to shift blame onto other people within his organisation, claiming either ignorance of what they were doing, or alternatively (in a technique laughably pursued by his son) to try the old amnesia routine.

No one is buying any of this and, until proprietors and politicians accept that the buck stops with them, then we are destined to suffer repeat episodes of the pathetic hand-wringing we have seen from people who are supposed to be grown-ups. They are like children caught doing something bad, so desperate to avoid punishment that honour and mendacity become (in their minds) all too interchangeable.

Since Lord Carrington resigned at the time of the Falklands conflict, taking responsibility for his department rather than accusing those directly responsible, there has scarcely been an instance where ministers have walked the plank as a matter of principle, rather than being forced to walk it as a result of the media finding out what was going on.

Unfortunately, blame culture, aka blame-someone-else, has become an unpleasant aspect of contemporary life. It is one of the informing principles behind useless health and safety regimes, and is rife throughout the UK construction industry, so trapped by its 19th century DNA that a contract becomes the occasion for litigation, not a satisfied client. The default attitude of contractors faced with any claim is to seek out anyone with an insurance policy they can join in the action, knowing full well that architectural practices are required to have indemnity policies, unlike contractors.

Needless to say designers are equally quick to point the finger at any other party involved in the event of a claim, but what they do not do is try to frighten and bully people into submission by making absurd financial claims, which many architects have had experience of on the receiving end.

At a deeper level, the history of the profession for well over a century has been to divest itself of responsibility for everything from finance to detailed technical design, transferring risk and business to others.

This has done the profession no good, to put it mildly. In general, clients hate being told by designers that, for example, they don’t know what projects are going to cost. It really isn’t that difficult. Practices that take responsibility are good news in a world where laying off risk in the financial sector turned out to be the riskiest thing you could do.

Happily, there is another side to all this. I have been reading the entries for this year’s British Construction Industry Awards. Wonderful projects, happy teams, buildings completed on time and on budget. When you meet these teams on the judging visits, one thing is certain: nobody is ducking responsibility for anything.

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