Our industry is fragmented between those who do the real work on site and those who live off its adversarial culture. Integrating the two factions is our only hope
It is an inconvenient truth that although construction is one of the largest and most important global industries, it is probably the most inefficient of them all. Governments have recognised this over the past 50 years, and have sponsored several reviews, notably Banwell (1964), Latham (1994) and Egan (1998). They all, in their way, correctly identified the underlying cause of its disfunctionality as the fragmentation of the industry’s constituent groups, which in turn has led to the complete fragmentation of design and construction management.
The solution, which is to integrate the process, has been regularly sabotaged by the architects, who are desperate to retain their control over design, and by the consultant QSs and project managers who need the conflict to justify their existence.
Fragmentation has split the industry into two factions: the consultant designers, QSs and project managers, who with the service providers make up the adversarial circus of virtual construction (VC), and the contractors, specialists and subcontractors of real construction (RC), who do the work on site.
Fragmentation has also split the construction process, creating three separate conflicting sectors of design, cost supervision and construction management. Design is then subdivided, exacerbating the problem. Independent consultants design the structure, the services, the fit-out, the infrastructure and the landscaping. This risk transferring exercise is quite commonly overlaid by “contractor-designed elements”, from foundations to roofs. Architects then just need to co-ordinate the overall layout, sketch the external elevations and pass on the design defect claims to the contractor’s insurers.
Much of Qss’ time is spent checking, rechecking and disputing each other’s figures, Yet none of them can be used to help put up the building because they are tactically inflated or deflated as part of the claim game
Cost supervision fragmentation adds even more duplication, conflict and unnecessary cost. Surveyors are employed by the client, the funders, the principal contractor, the subcontractors and the sub-subcontractors. Much of these surveyors’ time is spent going over the same work, checking, rechecking and disputing each other’s figures, all of which originate from the real constructors. Yet none of these figures can be used to help put up the building because they are tactically inflated or deflated as part of the great claim game.
When the responsibility for design, cost control and project management is split between multiple parties, errors, waste and conflict increase in exponential proportions, all to the client’s disadvantage and cost.
The folly of architects’ design dominance has been exposed by the scandalous waste involved in Building Schools for the Future. And they cannot blame the Labour government for this one. The responsibility rests squarely with the VC quangos that advised them. The only way to prevent a repetition of this scandal is to ensure that architects have to share in the cost risk of their design with everyone else.
There are far, far too many VC people involved in the design and supervision of projects. Just as the UK has drastically to reduce its public sector “overhead” by taking out those involved in unnecessary bureaucracy, supervision and counter-productive regulation, so does RC have to rid itself of the parasitic burden of the adversarial circus.
VC has tried all the alternatives, such as pseudo-collaborative working or novated design and build, and they have all failed. We have no choice left but to move to unambiguous, single responsibility, integrated design and construction (IDC) procurement and contracts. The adversarial circus has to be disbanded and the best of its personnel redistributed and embedded within real IDC constructors.
This is not going to be at all easy because under Labour it has been the designers and supervisors of VC’s adversarial circus that controlled construction’s principal lobbyists, with only token representation from the 85-90% of the industry that is RC. Now is the time for a business-friendly coalition to prove its credentials by introducing IDC procurement to public sector contracts, large and small. By helping real construction to stage a revolution to reclaim its own process and industry, the government will help itself to construct more for less and so kickstart the recovery for everyone in the industry.
Colin Harding is a past president of the CIOB and a non-executive director of several construction-related companies