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Do FM suppliers need a facilities management trade association to represent the sector?


We strongly believe that there should be a trade association that clearly represents the sector and have been asking for this to happen for some time. This is not just to help address the negativity around outsourcing but also to give the industry a comprehensive and clear voice. The current situation is that there are enough trade and professional bodies around to cover most angles but there isn’t a real trade body that covers traditional commercial FM.

In our view BIFM was never a trade body even though they touted for ‘corporate members’. This is why we took the decision to join the BSA as it is the only organisation that currently comes close to being a decent trade body that is even somewhere near our industry. They are committed to actively promoting the benefits of outsourcing and we don’t believe that any other organisation is successfully representing companies like Incentive FM and delivering this message. As a result, major companies are missing out on the benefits that outsourcing can bring such as driving down costs whilst driving up standards and our sector is missing out on much needed revenue.

The only issue with the BSA is that it covers a much wider range of services than true Facilities Management, including construction, which understandably skews the remit of the organisation and the areas that it is focusing on.

Two years ago, Julie Kortens, ex Channel 4 FM, tried to get some momentum for an FM trade body using BREXIT as a jump off point. However, the fact of the matter is that the large corporates are happy with the BSA and the smaller companies cannot easily bankroll a start-up organisation with overheads. Therein lies the real problem.

In conclusion we believe that our industry does need a true trade body but in order for that to happen we would need a considerable number of small and medium sized businesses to pay a few thousand pounds each to get the thing started. This is not easy and very unlikely to happen in the current, uncertain climate. 


There is no escaping the past 15 months have been challenging for the sector. As individuals, the genetic make-up of each company is totally different. Yes, there is overlap and we compete in many sectors like catering, security, cleaning or engineering, but no two FM companies are the same. We each have our own unique additions and opportunities which add value for clients.

Yet as a cohort, we are tarnished with the same brush. Right now, that brush isn’t painting roses around cottage doors but it’s also not revealing the entire picture. Much work is being done to reinvigorate the sector. Be that improving client services and adding value by developing smarter ways of working or deploying state of the art technology. It’s also important to support our most important asset by being better employers for the thousands of people working across the sector. It’s been an intense journey and there’s still some way to go, but we are on the right path.

So how do we get that story out there? Some cynics would say that ‘bad news sells’ and journalists aren’t interested in FM’s answer to unicorns and rainbows, but I disagree. There are a few vocal leaders, but it’s the cohesive narrative that is missing. That is a void that a trade association could help the industry fill. Not by becoming a defensive mouth piece, but by creating a space where FMs could come together to raise industry standards which benefit both clients and providers alike.

This does work. We see it across a vast range of sectors. In the UK alone, there are almost 2,500 trade bodies according to the Trade Association Forum’s Directory. Each of which focuses on collaboration in its sector.

On an informal level, this united approach is already bearing fruit within FM. Mitie, along with a range of other outsourcers, has been working closely with the Cabinet Office on a collaborative project to launch a new Government Outsourcing Playbook. This venture between public and private sectors was designed to ensure future services outsourced by government are set up to succeed and provide the best possible public services. Basically, a win win scenario for providers, the client, and ultimately, the end user.

Guidelines have been developed and there will need to be a shift in both procurement and bidding cultures. But, in working together, this project has the best possible chance of succeeding. Competition remains a core element so there’s no conflict of interest when it comes to securing business, but each provider involved has seized this once in a generation opportunity to effect positive change.

I’ve been privileged to be involved in the project. Seeing how we’ve tackled industry wide issues within the public sector makes me wonder how we can apply the same approach to the private sector. The variety of clients and their individual needs will make this more complex, but that doesn’t mean its unachievable.

The only potential conflict comes when policy change doesn’t work for all parties and has indirect consequences. For example, if a company’s main client is the public sector, it’s unlikely to have any issue meeting the new PPPR regulations for paying suppliers. Not so simple for companies which have a significant share of spend with private sector clients who contract on much longer payment terms (+90 days is some cases) but leverage the same supply chain as their public sector counterparts. These companies are inevitably caught in the middle and squeezed from a debt perspective because they must still pay their suppliers within 30 days. I think everyone agrees the timely payment of suppliers is the right thing to do, but finding a way to reach that payment panacea will prove a more challenging journey for some more than others. This is exactly the kind of bumpy road an industry association could seemingly smooth.

Similarly, with market pressures all outsourcers face, such as debt reduction, risk allocation and regulation. Instead of individuals driving an imperfect market, a cohesive body could support a broader, more balanced industry. Ensuring space for entrepreneurial entrants alongside established players is achievable, providing the governance is in place to achieve a consistently high industry standard.

An industry striving for better is powerful. Together, we can be a force for professionalising the FM industry. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to winning business, the gloves are off. But when it’s down to defending our industry’s reputation and raising professional standards, we should all stand together. In that regard, a trade body could only be a welcome addition to the sector. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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