Do clients want to dump frameworks so they can sit back and watch contractors desperate for work fight it out like dogs?

Are frameworks a good thing? It’s a question that isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve been inundated by readers’ opinions on this subject ever since BAA boss Steven Morgan announced he was dumping the company’s framework deal with contractors. This week we’ve got Don Ward, the Constructing Excellence chief executive, and Stan Hornagold, director of Marstan Group, slugging it out on pages 32-34. But for all their differences, both men agree that collaborative working is a good thing – it’s more a case of whether frameworks are really necessary to promote partnering-type working practices.

Looking around, it’s clear that frameworks are not essential; developers such as Argent and Stanhope have established long-term relationships with contractors without frameworks and are quite happy to pitch these companies against each other for jobs. But not everyone can do this. Imagine the outcry if public sector clients formed informal, cosy relationships with favoured contractors. Formal frameworks allow them to comply with EU procurement rules and keep dealings above board. In big PLCs, the construction directors are answerable to their board, which in turn are answerable to their shareholders, so again the framework is a good mechanism for formalising relationships.

It’s the spirit of the thing that really counts. Do clients want to promote collaborative working to bring better quality jobs, timely and cost-effective project delivery and a happy construction team? Or do they want to dump frameworks so they can sit back and watch contractors desperate for work fight it out like dogs? An experienced client who appreciates the benefits of the collaborative approach can probably live without a framework if the rules allow it. The danger is that some clients, particularly those that are inexperienced, will be tempted to ditch frameworks in a frenzy of competition, thinking that this will secure them the lowest bids. Adjudications are already rising fast from jobs that were bid in the boom times (page 11). These will look like chicken feed when the actions from those contractors who have bid suicidally low for work start feeding through. The thing to remember here is there is no such thing as a free lunch; you can enjoy it now, but you’ll pay double for it later.

We’re all multidisciplinary now

Davis Langdon’s merger with architect DEGW (page 10) is an interesting move. Of course, the notion of the multidisciplinary consultant isn’t new – multidisciplinary firms like Capita Symonds, Atkins and McBains Cooper have been around for years. But the QS and project management sector is still dominated by big specialist firms.

On the face of it, the acquisition makes a lot of sense: DEGW is a middling-sized firm with an international presence and has an impressive client list too, with names like Microsoft, Google and Deutsche Bank, which can only open up new opportunities for Davis Langdon. But there is more to this than simple clients lists. DEGW isn’t any old architect; rather it is renowned for rethinking companies’ workspaces to create efficient and effective businesses. With this acquisition, Davis Langdon is extending its consultancy role beyond number crunching and project delivery to advising clients on what sort of office spaces they will need to survive the downturn and beyond. In these difficult times, that is a powerful offer. The question now is: does this herald the beginning of the end for the true blood QS?

Thomas Lane, assistant editor