Changing Perceptions - a stronger future for the cleaning Industry
First of all I’d just like to say how much I enjoyed this year's BCC Conference, at Dexter House. I thought the range of keynote speakers really kept the delegates engaged, and it was great to see so many familiar faces in attendance.
We chose the theme of ‘changing perceptions’ for this year’s conference, as we feel the time is right to open up the debate on how our industry is changing and adapting to new technology, new working methods, and the new social environment.
Of course, this industry isn’t perfect, and I would never claim it was, we still have a lot of work to do but I’m very proud of the people who work in the sector, and I feel I do have to respond when we’re criticised. The recent EHRC report, for instance, painted a rather grim picture of the industry in some of its findings. But the report focused on such a tiny fraction of this huge industry (just 1% of workers were asked to give evidence) that its overall worth must be questioned.
It does disturb me that journalists and the media will now use the report’s dubious findings to tarnish our industry, with stories of ‘exploited cleaners’ and ‘uncaring contractors’. The BCC has made its voice very clear on this. We do accept malpractice has to be rooted out, but we do not accept that it is as widespread as the EHRC report claims. If you look hard enough at any sector you will find unsavoury practices.
But I was pleased that the report did also give some positive coverage to initiatives that the BCC proudly supports, like daytime cleaning and the living wage. These practices, along with the new technologies, is what will change attitudes to our industry.
The living wage is now a mainstream concept with both parties in favour of it and I’m proud the BCC has been a long term supporter. I can remember sitting in City Hall a couple of years ago hearing a talk from a contract cleaner who worked for a big city financial institution. He spoke passionately about the difference the living wage had made to his life. It really hit home when he told us that the living wage now meant he didn’t have to work quite so many hours and this enabled him to spend more time with his daughters.
It was a great personal story and reason enough in itself to have the living wage, but actually there’s a lot of value for the employer as well. In today’s market place it’s simply common sense to show a commitment to the wellbeing of staff. If the most capitalist of institutions in the City of London can pay the living wage and think it’s viable, then surely so can we.
That cleaning operative will probably stay with the firm much longer now, as he’s happy there, and that contentment leads to front line staff being great ambassadors for the companies they work for. I’m guessing that was also part of the thinking from the firm who introduced it.
High staff turnover can be a huge problem for employers, and there are numerous studies that show living wage and daytime cleaning can keep staff on-board longer, and, maybe just as importantly, keep them motivated and more productive.
But today our industry is focusing on much more than just employee relations; corporate social responsibility is now very much the order of the day in business and society, as we have a duty to be environmentally aware, support the local communities in which we work, and become involved in activities like volunteering and charities.
As an industry I’m also really pleased that we’re keen to use cutting edge technologies wherever possible. It’s vital for our future prosperity that we do, as it will not only make us economically viable, it will also show that we’re environmentally sustainable. One of the things I’m most looking forward to at next March’s Cleaning Show at the Excel is the latest technologies, and visualising how they might make us more competitive and environmentally sound as we move ahead.
So I think that the conference theme of ‘changing perceptions’ was very apt this year. The BCC is the voice of our industry, and after the EHRC report I think that voice should be heard. I want to stimulate a healthy debate; let’s find out what all stakeholders think, let’s find out where we can do things better, let’s really make an effort to discuss these things this year.
Having sound ethics should underpin everything we do as we move forward, we will never lose sight of the fact that we have to remain competitive, but the key is to do that whilst also remaining true to our values.
Doug Cooke, November 2014