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After the CSSA's withdrawal: Strange times for the BFG

Author : David Strydom

09 January 2015

Sarah Bentley at the PFM Awards 2014

The Cleaning & Support Services Association (CSSA) has ended the merger process with the Building Futures Group (BFG). Where does that leave the BFG's CEO, Sarah Bentley?

News that the Cleaning & Support Services Association (CSSA) has resolved to end the current merger process with the Building Futures Group (BFG) is surprising but not unexpected. CSSA members, we’re told, wish to focus on the contract cleaning sector and are now ‘considering their options’.

The BFG, for its part, will continue to focus on the FM sector ‘but also support the wider cleaning sector’. So now we know: the all-encompassing merger announced with such flourish less than a year ago (but without BIFM, which pulled out during negotiations), may not be quite so all-encompassing after all.

That realisation is cause for regret. PFM has long called for a single voice to speak for the industry; it’s now very clear we won’t get that, and just as apparent we won’t get much else, either. Still, all is not lost. Sarah Bentley, the canny CEO of the BFG, is a breath of fresh air.

Since her elevation to the post, and despite an element of reserve (wise, perhaps, in an industry where you can fall out with someone without even knowing it), she’s quickly become a prominent, respected figure in the sector. Nobody should underestimate the gargantuan task she was expected to undertake in moulding together differing entities.

When I spoke to Bentley by phone soon after the news, she was upbeat, dismissing the suggestion that the CSSA’s departure pointed to flaws within the BFG. “It’s not a big issue,” she said. “It’s unfortunate but it doesn’t affect our status one bit, and certainly doesn’t impact on our plans for the future.”

Does that mean the BFG would look at other associations with which to merge? “Not at this moment in time. We aren’t having merger agreements but we’re working really closely with RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). I don’t want to be distracted from delivery for my members.”

Yet, Bentley left the door open a sliver. Yes, she agreed, consolidation among associations ‘is the right thing’. “I truly believe in it. We can’t afford as an industry to be disparate. We’ve established that.” In addition, she said, a BFG merger with another association is not something she was looking into, before adding:  ‘immediately’.

The possibilities for the future are endless, but not many of them are particularly desirable.

While it’s clear BIFM has chosen its own path and that RICS is unlikely to partake in any official pacts despite it’s close work with the BFG, it’s conceivable the BFG could be drawn into an arrangement with an entity such as the Business Services Association (BSA), which has valuable influence with government, but which lacks a skills wing (Bentley was previously CEO of Asset Skills, the organisation she brought into BFG).

The future fate of the BFG truly is Sarah Bentley’s to decide.

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