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Understanding construction sector policy through the lens of the Poulson affair

School of the Built Environment

Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Current issues in construction sector policy too often tend to be debated ahistorically. The construction sector is invariably seen to be slow to change, and to adhere to an outdated businesss model. Firms are exhorted to embrace innovation, and to adopt so-called ’modern methods of construction’. The overiding tendancy is to view the sector as a static identity which is in need of technological disruption. The proposed PhD topic draws from the ’historical turn’ in policy studies to investigate the extent to which the present is shaped and/or conditioned by the past. Particular attention is directed at the Poulson scandel (1972-1976) which can be seen to have had a lasting impact on the UK construction sector , not least in terms of procurement policy. Rather than view John Poulson as a solitary ’bad apple’ it is proposed that the affair was indicative of large-scale systemic corruption. Or at least this is how it can be viewed in retrospect. For those involved at the time, it was seemingly just the way that business was done. The web of corruption can be seen to have expanded way beyond Poulson’s architectural practice, to include major contractors, local authorities, trade union officials and senior ministers from within central government. The shadow of the Poulson affair looms especially large over subsequent decades of housing policy, and arguably accounts in part for the withdraw of central government from the provision of mass housing. More prosaically, the Poulson affair has had lasting implications for tendering practice, and for subsequent initiatives such as ’partnering’ which claimed to seek more collaborative (sic) ways of working. It is envisged that the study will make use of archival research methods, policy analysis and semi-structured interviews with practitioners and policy makers.


Green, S. D. (2011) Making Sense of Construction Improvement, Wiley/Blackwell, Oxford.

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