No time to let the
The cleaning industry can ignore the collapse of Carillion and carry on its shortsighted, cut-throat
business as usual. Or, says James White of Denis Rawlins, it could build a more sustainable model,
founded on true innovation, training and more effective ways of working
Here we go again. Carillion’s
collapse put thousands out of a
job, ruined suppliers, disrupted
services, and triggered outrage among
politicians, unions and the public. It also
created industry speculation about who
will be next.
The way we tender and award
contracts has to change. But will it ever?
Cleaning was just one of several
sectors tainted by this monumental
failure, and our industry certainly needs
to put its house in order.
Cut-throat competitive bidding wins
contracts, staff are moved (TUPE’d) over
to the winning company, and nothing
really changes. But something has to
give. So it’s the price. Or contractors
operate their lowest-price business
model by using subcontract labour, with
no job security and wages they can’t live
o our industry focuses on the short
term, winning the next contract, rather
than creating a sustainable and
profitable way of delivering good-quality
cleaning to clients.
Part of the problem is the gap
between boardroom and washroom.
Directors don’t know, or care, what’s
happening on the ground. We see bad
cleaning practices, filthy facilities and
work that is subbed out but not
supervised properly. Is it being done to a
set standard, or even done at all?
Daily cleaning is often just spot
cleaning, between costly deep cleans, so
contractors can ‘clean up’ financially.
These intensive cleans would not be
necessary at all if professional, modern
cleaning practices were used on a daily
Too much cleaning is about
disinfecting dirt rather than removing it.
Yet dirt removal – and the effectiveness
of cleaning – can be measured
scientifically and easily. But how many
Attitudes to innovation
And what about innovation? As in every
other sector, clients ask for it, but it is
becoming a tick-box exercise.
Contractors often state they are
adopting some innovation, but then fail
to invest in the necessary training or
systems to manage the new method so it
isn’t used properly.
The excuse: “It’s not in the budget” is
the other reason innovation is not
implemented. Any true innovation
either brings better results or savings,
and ideally both. So it’s a fallacy to see it
as unaffordable. Which is why we’re
pushing the concept of ‘the new RoI –
return on innovation’. Measure results.
Calculate savings. Prove your return.
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And then make an informed decision to
invest, or not.
Our innate resistance to change is
another factor. In the short term,
changing how you do things involved
some extra effort. But in the long term a
new practice – that is well thought
through – saves time, money, gives
consistently better results, and it can
make the job more dignified for the
people who have to do it.
Keep in training
Training will be crucial in taking
cleaning from menial to professional.
Our industry’s training bodies should be
leading the way. Using outdated
methods, like sweeping and mopping,
which are inefficient and ineffective,
perpetuate this backward view of
Training is undervalued by clients
and contractors too. We provide free
training, and often find that supervisors
and managers don’t even turn up, as
they’re ‘too busy’ – to learn how to
implement innovation and best practice.
All this shortsightedness eventually
loses contracts, so the vicious circle is
Taking the longer view – investing in
innovation, and staff, training them and
putting in the resources to assure
reliable, professional cleaning – will
result in satisfied clients, contract
retention and winning new contracts.
Some in our industry do take this long
view. There are many good companies –
large, medium and small – that clean in
a professional way. However, our
experience suggests that they remain the
exception, rather than the rule.
Applying the Pareto 80/20 rule – our
industry needs to flip: when 80% acts in
a professional way, the other 20% will go
out of business. And this time it will be
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but then fail
to invest in
so it isn’t used