The length of payment periods to subcontractors has remained constant throughout the recession, despite government-led initiatives designed to help according to results from the National Specialists Contractors Council quarterly state of trade surveys. No wonder then that payment remains at the top of the agenda for SMEs in the construction market.

Last month Wilmott Dixon joined the band of main contractors making early payment possible for the payment of a small fee. I still find it unbelievable that you have to pay to get an invoice settled. But without cash a small business could go under; so it’s bite the bullet yet again to make sure you’ve got a bird in the hand.

Let’s hope the new Supply Chain Payment Charter  will tackle payment practices. Taking advantage of SMEs could be seen as an abuse of power and surely it’s time again that clearer legislation should be considered to stop abuse. It is unacceptable, in an industry that says to its clients that it can offer them an efficient, modern, technologically advanced service, and then adopt outdated business practices.

Surely we need to return to an era where work is priced and the client pays for what they’ve ordered. This assumes that the design has been finalised, however, it’s then up to the specialist contractor to make sure that they deliver to a high standard.

Worrying then to learn from the Interiors Sector Training Review that more than 60 per cent of fitters in the building finishes and interior fit-out sector are unqualified. There are potentially many reasons for this position but you can point the finger of blame in many different directions.

What is at the heart of the future of our industry is that to survive it needs to bring more new entrants into the sector. In the building finishes and interiors sector that means 1,000 every year, at least.

In the same way that the current payment model is faulty, the way the sector develops skills appears to be broken as well. Too much emphasis is on wet trade training and not enough on the growing dry trades.

Perhaps this is where there is a gap for a combined FPDC and AIS to demonstrate leadership across the sector and tackle difficult issues in a truly innovative way.