The IT revolution of the past decade means that virtually all design work – and soon tendering – is done online. But computerisation hasn't stopped the need for paper copies of drawings, because firms still want an audit trail of any changes for legal purposes. But at what cost? According to one leading consultant, the price of photocopying can sometimes account for 25% of the fee of an architect or a QS, which is almost impossible to recover from clients.
The answer? Invest in Kall Kwik shares and hope to make up the difference.
Take it away, boys
There is an intriguing article this week on page 28 about the government's latest attempts to turn the PFI into a sleek, turbo-charged procurement machine. It seems that ministers are trying to mollify contractors after their backroom deal with the unions to allow workers in PFI hospitals to remain employed by the public sector. However, I gather that there are those within the Treasury lobbying for a more fundamental rethink.
According to PFI contractors in the know, the mandarinate is thinking about extending the scheme to embrace the whole management of schools and hospitals, not just the buildings. Their thinking is that the PFI is not giving enough value for money. With control of the entire operation in its hands, a consortium would have more scope to improve productivity. Perhaps this is what Gordon Brown has been alluding to when he refers to NHS "reform". But it would mean facing down the unions, which the government seems reluctant to do. Watch this space.
How times change. A couple of weeks ago, a consultant was hauled over to Heathrow for a meeting with his paymasters at BAA. He was naturally expecting the usual rubber-truncheon-and-dripping-tap treatment, only to be met by the greeting: "Hello, I'm your new listening client." He nearly fell off his chair.
Leave it to Cleaver
I hear Mansell chief executive Philip Cleaver had to have a quiet word with the compère of the company's excellent supply-chain awards ceremony in the Drapers' Hall in London last week. Dressed like a circus ringmaster, the flamboyant MC persisted on pronouncing the contractor's name Man—SELL, until Cleaver stepped in. I gather that he wasn't too impressed, either, when his new chairman Eric Anstee announced that what he had to say would be like a lady's skirt – "long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting". Ouch.
Bees in their bonnets
I read with interest The Observer's article last weekend on the link between Brentford FC and Hollywood stars Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey. All very intriguing, but I fear the paper missed another high-profile fan of the club, this time from the construction industry. Heery International managing director Graham Rice has followed Brentford since he was a boy. Unlikely as it may seem, it could be his passport to Tinseltown …
After a rather bibulous night out in Soho, a colleague of mine had the misfortune to mislay his passport in the Nelly Dean pub on Dean Street. As luck would have it, the vital document was discovered by a Welsh contractor. However, when my colleague mentioned his profession, his benefactor became extremely reticent, and would only give his name as "Black Bob". What, I wonder, caused the sudden shyness – and why was my colleague expecting his passport to come in handy in the middle of London?
Too much to ask?
Another colleague of mine had a surprising phone conversation with a press officer at Conservative Central Office last week. All he wanted from the young lady on the other end of the line was the name of the MP who acts as the Tories' spokesperson on construction issues. The response was that they were too grief-stricken to talk right now. "We're all in mourning," she said. "We want to keep off all political subjects until the Queen Mother is buried." And you thought Brian Wilson could be difficult to get hold of.
Full marks to the counter-espionage team at London Underground for uncovering a plot to undermine the democratic process and threaten the very fabric of society. It seems that a poll on the company's website, which asks whether you support the part-privatisation of the Tube, has been hacked into by cyberwreckers. The sleuths at LU uncovered the plot after noticing that the no vote had "been soaring since last night at the rate of one vote a second – every second – all night and morning".
Goodbye to an old friend
It is with sadness that I learned of the death of Nick Hanika, who died of a brain tumour on Easter Sunday, aged 48. Nick was a founding partner of consulting engineer Price and Myers, which, over 20 years, became one of the most respected firms in the industry. His talent was best displayed by the beautifully elegant Cricket Schools pavilion at Lords, and in a different key, his testing out of construction toys for our Christmas feature in 1994. Our thoughts are with his wife Julia and their three daughters. (Donations to Cancer Research UK, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PX.)