A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Camouflage's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Camouflage is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Our design and build projects
are taken on from concept
through to handover
We deliver high-end residential
work across north London
Alex Keane founded Camouflage in 2003 as a design and
branding agency focusing on international clothing brands
but changed the orientation of the business and moved
into design and build for premium residential work in 2013 after
a downturn in economic activity in the Italian retail sector. They
effectively operate two companies under the same name – an
eight-person design and architectural team alongside an 18-strong
building team comprised of partners and subcontractors. Based in
Bath, they work exclusively across the NW1, NW3, NW8, SW7 and
BA1 postcodes delivering high-end residential work.
One of the most important things to note is that I take full accountability of all
projects from concept, and feel comfortable doing so thanks to my background in
design and architecture. We are a design and build company that handles complete
turnkey projects from initialisation and concept all the way through to quite literally
handing over the key – it’s end-to-end. From the receipt of brief, we generally cover
house and apartment refurbishments, basement developments, and other extensions,
but specialise generally in buildings that are Grade I, Grade II and Grade II* listed.
Excellence, delivery and quality
These are the three values that underpin our work. The quality of design and the tailored
finish are so important – they are taglines in our vision to assure that from all levels
of the company there is a serious attention to detail. This is best represented in the
symbiotic relationship between the operational and design sides of the business – we
involve site managerial staff throughout the process to ensure clear communications.
»Managing director: AlexKeane
»Established in 2003
»Based in Bath
»Services: Design and build
residential contracts
»No. of employees: 8 in design
and architecture, 18 in building
»Work exclusively across the
NW1, NW3, NW8, SW7 and
BA1 postcodes
Highlighting best practice
We manage all clients’ expectations
and ensure that where they might
be disappointed by competitors, we
can provide a superior service. We’re
always upfront and transparent in our
discussion, and provide a proficient
estimation of cost from the outset
based on the brief supplied. This is
generally within 10 to 15 per cent
of the final amount – we don’t
want to mislead our clients. We’re
creative, we’re diligent and we
manage expectations effectively both
operationally and financially.
A lot of our clients are high-net-
worth individuals. They demand more
of us because they want complete
accountability, and that drives all of us.
Our team understand that it’s my neck
on the line.
Celebrating growth and
In our first year, we took on one
project, and doubled that in our
second. We’re now on track to
complete seven this year; we have
turned projects down if the nature
of the job and our time frame didn’t
allow us to serve a client appropriately.
Prior to our transition, we were
experiencing around 27-per-cent year-
on-year growth; when we moved to
the residential sector, it was difficult to
begin with, and there was a learning
curve, but we’re looking at turning
over £4 million at the end of this
financial year.
We cost things specifically to each job
and make sure things are accurately
interpreted. Design and architecture
make up around eight or nine per
cent of a project’s overall value, and
we tend to work to profit margins of
nine or ten per cent. The jobs we work
on, however, are not inexpensive; our
highest contract value to date was a
£1.2million project on a 3,000-square-
feet three-floored apartment in a
beautiful terrace in Regent’s Park.
With every contract we undertake,
we try and ensure the end product is
sustainable financially and worth it for
the clients. It all feeds into our focus
on transparency.
Problems of uncertainty
A lot of our clients are apprehensive
about the change and the instability
in the current housing market, and
that extends to our business in some
capacity; from an industry-specific
viewpoint, when the Brexit vote
came in, we saw instantaneous
price increases from a great deal of
We source a lot of natural stone from
abroad, and a number of our kitchen
and bathroom suppliers are Italian
or German. We saw their prices rise
across the board. Of course, it has
since stabilised – but there’s industry-
wide uncertainty and instability
with regards to the future. Nobody
knows for sure what will happen,
or how pricing will change – but
that uncertainty is something we
must consider. These changes and
increases will have a knock-on effect
for everybody, especially when the
deal is finalised – I can personally easily
see a 10 per cent increase. That’s a
real concern when you’re dealing
with kitchens that could cost £50,000
We pride ourselves
on excellence and
We manage
all clients’
and ensure
that where
they might be
we can
provide a
service. We’re
always upfront
Difficulties with compliance
and regulation
The 2015 Construction Design and
Management (CDM) regulations
focused the sector across the board,
but we ensure our compliance as
a principal designer and principal
contractor. We spend thousands
each year on ensuring we keep to the
newest legislation, whether it’s CDM,
health and safety, or a number of any
other things, but there doesn’t seem to
be anybody really policing it. We might
be working on-site with all appropriate
requisite protective equipment and
safety measures in place, but, next
door, a competitor of ours could be
working and doing absolutely nothing
with regards to compliance. Regulators
don’t seem to be walking around and
fining or reprimanding other companies
for their breaches, yet we’re spending
over £20,000 annually on staff training.
It’s disproportionately balanced.
The planning and listed building
regulations do not make things easy
to work, either. There are specific
guidelines laid down by the government
about the time frame in which planning
and listed applications should be
viewed and treated. In Westminster,
for example, they try to operate within
the eight-week timeframe. Camden,
however, appear to be under unknown
pressures. They can take as long as
six months to complete things, and
that affects our relationships with
clients. I’ve almost lost a job because
a client thinks I’m being reactive when
it’s actually being stonewalled by
government legislation. We’re told that
in Camden it’s a lack of staff, but other
councils manage it without a problem.
There needs to be standardisation for
the good of theindustry.
Hopeful for stability
Our future is inherently linked to the
economic and political stability of the
country. With regards to stamp duty
and the welcoming of high-net-worth
individuals from other countries, this has
a bearing on the amount of work we
can take on – we’ve seen a downturn
in the volume of opportunities over
the last six to nine months, although
things are picking up again.
It’s a positive situation currently, but
in other areas of the country, we can’t
say the same thing. Our order book
is positive, but to ensure prosperity,
we need stability, and we need the
London market to settle.
Our future is
linked to the
economic and
stability of the
Our residential fit-out
work is of the highest

This article was sponsored by Camouflage. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy