Open mike: Ashley Pigott’s attack on construction management’s drew on statements made at the Fraser inquiry into Holyrood. Here, the man who made them explains what he meant …

I was invited, as an independent procurement adviser, by Lord Fraser to make a presentation on construction management to his inquiry on Holyrood. Ashley Pigott, in his article (8 October 2004, page 56) uses Fraser’s findings to confirm his negative views on CM in his earlier article. I read it with amusement as he commented on my seven “must-haves” for CM to prove his point – but I am afraid he has missed just that – the point. A few examples will suffice.

He quotes one of my must-haves as the need for “well-defined roles and responsibilities from the start” and then questions the role of the construction manager. He says the construction manager is simply a co-ordinator with little or no power and this is not conducive to teamwork. Although we now have more “standard” CM appointments I see no reason why the consultant’s contracts cannot be changed to make the construction manager’s role more powerful. Further, Mr Pigott suggests that when things go wrong, all a construction manager can do is complain to the client. Well, that does not happen if you have a good team. Good teams help each other and find solutions regardless of the contract or procurement strategy.

Mr Pigott suggests we should use the traditional approach if, as I said at the Fraser inquiry, we have an architect who can “envisage the whole and detail at the same time”. My key word is “envisage”. I did not say the architect has the detailed design at the start. My point is that in package design, the design follows the procurement programme. The designer has to produce parts of the design in an unusual sequence while ensuring they knit together to form the whole with minimal changes to previous work. That is the key skill.

Mr Pigott thinks that it can never be the case in CM that there is “sufficient time up front in planning, to foster a ‘no surprises’ culture and to avoid crisis management”. Does he mean then that CM projects proceed without any plans? Clearly this is not the case. He confuses process and outputs. He says “nobody knows how the building is going to be designed from the start”. Of course we know “how” it will be designed and we plan for that – what we might not know with any great certainty is what the design will be.

Mr Pigott rightly says that in fast CM there is insufficient time to get prices from 10 or 20 trade contractors before a decision to proceed with a change can be made. This is precisely why one of my must-haves for CM was “a very good construction instruction, approval and change process”. I happen to believe that because the trade contractors have a direct contract with the client, there is a greater chance of receiving their prices quickly in CM than in many other forms of contract. If the process is efficient there is no reason the fast pace of CM should be a problem.

He seems to envisage a team who are unconcerned with risk because it is all down to the employer. This is far from the view of most construction management teams

Another point Mr Pigott makes on risk appalled me. To quote him, “But in CM, the risk is not ‘managed’ – it is simply passed to the employer” and he goes on to say that “nobody is ever accountable under CM”. He seems to envisage a team who are unconcerned with risk because it is all down to the employer and they are not responsible. This is far from the view of most CM teams with whom I have worked. They may not be legally accountable but they certainly feel they are as part of their job and they work hard to mitigate risk. How? By having “an effective and well-managed risk management process” – even though it’s the client’s risk.

Mr Pigott says, “the cost escalation should not come as a surprise”. Perhaps Mr Pigott has forgotten that part of the reasoning behind CM is to accept (perhaps reluctantly) some trade-off on cost for the benefit of earlier completion. So no, the cost increase does not come as a surprise but perhaps on Holyrood the scale of it did.

Finally, Mr Pigott identifies various public sector CM projects as failures but fails to identify any of the numerous successful CM projects, particularly those in the public sector. The points he makes seem to go further than Fraser’s. In my view, Fraser did not condemn CM per se – among his many recommendations he identified two key elements. The first was the flawed decision to choose CM, as he believed the decision was not fully considered, especially the risk element. Secondly, he does recommend that in future the public sector should not use CM, but he does not rule out CM in other sectors.

It would have been useful and given a more balanced view if Mr Pigott had quoted another part of my evidence to Lord Fraser. Put simply I said, “it is not easy to do CM well but it is possible”. I suspect that in 18 months’ time I, and not Mr Pigott, will be proved right.