The RaaC crisis has been typical of the way many big compliance issues have been handled by large organisations over the years. But it shows how ‘kicking the can down the road’ can lead to days of reckoning that are more disruptive and expensive for companies in the long run. Many are now asking, how can we end this vicious cycle?
Schools on the RaaC
At the end of August 2023 a ceiling beam in a school in Leicester collapsed. It had been made with the now notorious Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RaaC).
The weakness of the construction material had been understood for decades. Yet it was only when the material dramatically gave way in three different locations, that action was taken and the ‘low risk’ status of this and other buildings across the country were finally reviewed.
As a result, 150 schools, colleges, and nurseries in the UK have now closed down at least some of their buildings.
These buildings were effectively classified as “safe enough” – until it became clear that RaaC even considered “low risk” by officials could collapse at any moment.
Source: The Conversation
A familiar story for building compliance
But this is not an isolated story. The RaaC crisis seems typical of the way many compliance issues have been handled in estate management over the years. As one ex-NHS estates manager told us recently, major reckonings seem to have been avoided more by luck than design:
“They just get through it by not having an episode that identifies the level of weakness.”
But how did we get here?
Recently, we spoke to an FM specialist who has worked in consultancy in the NHS and other care organisations for many years. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, we have anonymised their comments, but their words speak to the heart of the problem about the management of complex estates:
It’s shocking, but not surprising, In essence, estates never feature very highly on any chief execs’ agenda. You very rarely find the mention of it in any corporate strategy. If it is there, it's sort of a bolt-on at the end.
Our expert argued that considering the central importance of buildings to these big operations and how much money is funnelled into their maintenance, it is surprising how little is spent on data gathering about estates and their fixed assets.
Under investment in analytics
This under investment is preventing the analysis that should support better planning around future building and renovation projects:
Right now, it’s just fix and repair rather than strategise. You know, they’re not looking at data to help them think about the future, or where new technology and new building concepts could help them improve performance.
A lack of data is impacting on strategy
For many organisations, the reluctance to focus on strategy to tackle serious, long-term problems like RaaC is understandable. It’s a fear of the sheer size, complexity and cost of the challenge ahead. Many feel it safer to spend money on fix and repair, rather than open up a potential can of worms.
How can we focus leadership on estate strategy?
But where there is a reluctance to focus on fixing strategy, minds can be focused by reminding leaders who is ultimately responsible for any organisational failure.
Our expert said that in arguing for more digital tools to improve oversight and prioritise facilities investment to close compliance gaps - CEOs need to realise the potential impact of their inaction.
It’s up to them to recognise that it's not FM’s job, it's their job. FM just happen to be the ones that facilitate policy, it's the CEO that in the most could be facing a judge.
RaaC is a reminder
The RAAC crisis serves as a stark reminder that FM compliance shouldn’t be about ticking boxes or meeting minimum standards.
It can and should be about proactive engagement with estate data, helping senior management understand the long-term implications of their decision-making, and working out when to prioritise sustainable safety over short-term fixes.
Modern CAFM tools can help organisations shift from reactive to proactive management. The right tools can collect FM and financial data in one platform, then project costs and performance well in the future.
But as our expert pointed out in our interview, it’s taking a long time for ‘the penny to drop’ among too many senior leaders. And this lack of investment in analytics and strategy is leaving building occupants at long-term risk.