THE BIG INTERVIEW: Julian Edwards, head of the FCSI UK & Ireland

Julian Edwards, chair, UK & Ireland

The FCSI’s UK branch is now re-affiliated with FCSI EAME after a parting of the ways last year, placing it in a stronger position as the industry wades into Brexit. Joe Peskett caught up with UK chairman Julian Edwards to hear how the FCSI is reforming alongside its international partners, setting new standards for members and seeking to improve collaboration with the wider industry. 

The FCSI UK & Ireland arm split from FCSI EAME but you are now officially affiliated with it again. How difficult was it to draw a line under things?

It was quite simple really, as we have been back unofficially within EAME since last September. It was made official when the Affiliation Agreement was signed in Vienna during the Conference, and we are now looking forward to sharing best practice, support and learning with our European colleagues. A good example of that is BIM — building information modelling — where the FCSI has been instrumental in supporting and educating.

One of issues that led to the UK disbanding was the perceived lack of value that belonging to EAME offered. Has this been resolved now?

While the UK and Ireland were doing very well by being at the forefront of what the FCSI stood for in terms of standards and had a lot of support in the UK, the members asked a question that was quite reasonable in respect of the value of contributing to a European centre. We all subscribe to certain societies and it’s generally understood that does come at a cost. But we are now working on an ongoing basis with our European counterparts to help make expenditure and the budgeting process more transparent and tangible. For example, in the last 12 months Europe has subsidised the FCSI UK and Ireland to maintain its administrative function.

What are your plans over the next 12 months — can you share any particular initiatives or objectives that you will be driving?

Certainly as a society we’re keen to improve standards. We really do want consultants’ clients to choose the best people and as preferred consultants it’s important that we present ourselves as strategic thinkers, innovators and, in order to back that up, we need to learn new things. We’re also keen to collaborate with industry colleagues and other associations. A good example of this is that on June 20 we held our first Education Day, where our allied members presented to our consultant members on topics such as sustainability, new regulations, technology and waste reduction. Colleagues from other parts of the industry were also welcomed, and it is hoped that the day will bring about learning, new perspectives and lots of great networking. Our objectives are education, collaboration and transformation.

What proportion of the UK professional members that were part of the FCSI UK when it disbanded are members today? And what are you doing to win any lost members back?

We have retained the vast majority of our professional and allied members. We now have 39 professional consultants and 63 allied company members which we are very pleased about. We are also delighted to welcome back some of our past members who are always very welcome as they were instrumental in setting us up with the standards we have today. This good work is now being continued. Setting and improving criteria for entry and grading of new members is under review at the moment in order to improve our standards and our aim in time is to become fully identified as the official body in this field.

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What have been your key priorities since taking over the chairmanship of the FCSI?

Listening to members’ needs and wants. As chair person I’ve been trying to capture those and set those as our agenda. We’re a common voice now and it’s very much membership-led in order for us to create a better platform. This last six months has been about re-grouping, getting our systems in place, and telling the market that we are open for business. We have also had a massive focus on collaboration. We’ve met with many colleagues and associations and this is helping us to drive things forward, share ideas and collaborate. For example, this year we have seminars and hopefully webinars on new energy efficiency equipment and new regulations that are coming out. There’s a big emphasis on equipment standards and we want to ensure that all our consultants are kept informed.

How would you assess the status of the FCSI UK today and what does the association stand for in terms of its values?

There’s still a lot of work to do, but we are now in a much stronger position than we were previously. We have the chance to review things and make changes where necessary, and to push forward to strengthen the society and our relationships with others. Our themes this year are collaboration, education and innovation and we’re pushing those heavily. For example, with education, we are building an extensive library of downloads so every member will have access to information about the latest guides, schemes, legislative changes, best practice models and information which we glean from our collaborators.

What role do allied members have to play in the future of the FCSI?

They have a big role to play — they are part of our education programme, and we appreciate their support enormously. We also value their feedback and advice which is gleaned from their experiences of the industry and hope that they will share as much knowledge with us as possible. Equally, we’re happy to talk to manufacturers and listen to what they’re saying and offer advice and feedback from client experiences and share as much knowledge as possible.

Have you looked at the membership cost structure of the FCSI since you became chair?

Yes, with the cost of the fees, certainly for 2017, we set a reduced structure for all allied members on a flat rate basis, not levied to their turnover, which has been welcomed. We have marginally increased the cost of professional membership this year to bring it more in line with EAME fees, and the future pricing structure for FCSI is currently being developed.

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How challenging is the market for consultants at the moment? With many operators reducing expenditure in the wake of Brexit, are consultants competing for less business?

The market has been booming for many years now and our mainstream consultants are very busy people. The important thing is that the client market thinks about utilising a consultant for lots of good reasons — not least independence and objectivity. A consultant worth their salt will specify the right, most cost-effective equipment for the project. That doesn’t mean the cheapest. It’s about kit that lasts, ticks the eco boxes and has a lifecycle cost. The challenges for us are client-led. Clients need to be told that by using a professional consultant, although it comes at a fee, those fees are covered by the effective consultancy that’s delivered and the kit choices. The value of a consultant has never been so high.

What does Brexit mean for the FCSI?

It’s interesting that we’re still implementing new European laws, especially when it comes to green labelling for refrigeration. We’re still tied into that and will be for several years I think.

How do you see the role of foodservice design consultants evolving over the next five years?

On the first part, the consultant will evolve and it will be a rapid evolution over the next few years. We’re hell-bent on raising a recognisable standard of consulting to the point that clients will opt for a quality marked consultant before other consultants as there is a glut of consultants in the market. It’s high time that was regulated. The future for the end-user is that they’ll have access to recognised consultants with a code of ethics and who are quality assured. People are used to going through quite a diligent process before they use a company and the process for appointing a consultant is pretty flimsy at the moment so we want to be pioneers in making that more of a structure — it’s a product. It’s difficult to standardise consultants because of the nature of the industry, however there are elements that can be improved, which will make it easier for clients to find the right level of consultancy and make it harder for those consultants of a lower standard to operate in the market.

There are some fantastic designers who are tied in with particular distributors who deserve recognition. We’ll see how the future pans out because there could be opportunities for consultants and distributors to collaborate. There’s no denying that we see some excellent works by these individuals — could these individuals join in a sub-group at the FCSI? Because we’d love to share with them the tricks of the trade and innovations and they could bring another dimension — possibly. We are in that era of collaboration.

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