Meet Graham Bell

Secretary Graham Bell has held this role at the Scottish Plant Owners Association (SPOA) for over 20 years. Wright Johnston & Mackenzie, the law firm where Graham works as a corporate lawyer, is part of the history of the SPOA. It is an unusual and special relationship, as Graham explains.

“Even though the SPOA marked its 70th anniversary back in 2022, I am only the third Secretary at the Association. You could say it’s a legacy that has been handed down through generations at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie. It all started with the founding secretary of the SPOA, James Aitken. James owned a legal practice which was ultimately merged with Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie. When James retired, the role of Secretary passed to senior partner Campbell White.

“This is why we also have the Aitken White Memorial Trust, named after our former secretaries and established as a charity in 1990 to support and educate young people in the plant industry.

“Campbell passed the mantle to me and here I am over 20 years later!”

Construction industry is a barometer for the economy

In his two decades as secretary, Graham has seen first-hand how members of the SPOA have weathered economic recession. He explains: “As Secretary, I sit on the Executive Committee with members who either own their own business or hold a senior role in a company in the construction sector. When the economy struggles, it is often this sector that experiences difficulties first and equally it is often the first to recover. In that sense the construction industry is very much a barometer for the economy.

“The SPOA is fortunate to have such a wealth of knowledge and experience of the construction sector represented on the Executive Committee, giving up their time to bring their experience to benefit our members and the issues that matter to them.”

Remaining relevant

The talent and experience of the Executive Committee needs to be maintained. Graham believes that a marker of overall success for the SPOA is the flow of new members and individuals volunteering to join the Executive Committee: “If we are no longer relevant, then plant owners simply won’t join or renew their membership. If there is no desire amongst members to step forward as President or Vice President, then we lose continuity and momentum as a trade association.

“Arguably, there has never been a more important time to put your head above the parapet with the recent challenges of COVID-19, escalating fuel costs following the removal of the red diesel rebate, and the economic and logistical challenges of meeting targets on net zero. There are still challenging times ahead.”

The ongoing challenge to attract young people into construction

Graham describes this as “the nut we’ve yet to crack” and despite an improved relationship with the CITB, it remains a challenge.

Graham offers some insight into this based on two decades of hearing the barriers and issues discussed by the Executive Committee:

“The first dynamic relates to the reality of working on a construction site. The sites tend to be controlled by a civil engineering contractor who does not want subcontractors to have novices or trainees on site for health and safety reasons. They prefer to have fully qualified and experienced plant operators on the job. But many contractors will also have a plant hire dimension to their business which means that they can train operators directly unlike the smaller plant owners who struggle to find the access to sites training. It becomes more difficult and there is less of an incentive for plant owners to train their own apprentices.

“The second dynamic relates to age. Let’s say that a school leaver aged 16 is a prime candidate to become a plant operator apprentice, legally they are not allowed to be on a construction site until they reach 18. If the construction industry can’t find ways to engage with them in that two-year period, then we miss the opportunity and, worst case scenario, lose that candidate to another sector.

“I would stress that we have made significant progress over the last few years to highlight the opportunities for employers and young people and work with the CITB to improve the apprenticeship offering. But there is still some way to go.”

SPOA 2.0

With the appointment of the Membership Administrator, the SPOA’s first full-time member of staff, and the significant move to establish an office in Stirling, Graham feels that we are entering a new era in the Association’s history.

“This is SPOA 2.0; we can better represent our membership and we can make a bigger noise. I’m sure James Aitken and Campbell White would be proud of how far the Association has come.”

To find out more about the Executive Committee, click here.

Back to SPOA News


* indicates required