Latham had been appointed by the government and the industry to write a review of procurement and contractual arrangements in the UK construction. So it was that in December 1993 he published his interim report, Trust and Money. It was fascinating. He did a great job in summing up our industry's ailment. "There was too little trust – and not enough money … A mighty machine, which requires oil in its engine to drive it, has grit instead."
For fun, let's reverse the proposition that there is too little trust. Let's reassemble the model with the idea that there is too much trust.
Look at all the other walks of life where trust is absent. Not for one moment do I trust the answers given by these jolly MP folk to John Humphrys on the Today programme. Nor do I believe what I read in the newspapers. Consumers don't trust business, especially big business. None of us, it is said, trusts banks or insurers or pension providers. Trust me, I'm a doctor, said Harold Shipman. We need to get more suspicious.
Let's be ever so suspicious of the employer on the next prospective building job – it's our money in his pocket. Don't trust a prospective payer. Check him out. You do the work and then find the blighter was deceiving you as to his ability to pay on time, or at all. Don't give credit without searching your soul and the other party's credit record. And when you use a credit-checking outfit, check them, too. Do they know what they're doing? Then check that you know how to read the bumf in front of you. And if you are buying the services of a builder, don't trust them – check them out. Check their ability, experience and know-how. Check them out for financial robustness. If they tell you they are a splendid outfit, don't trust them – check them out.
Don't trust the architect who says they can design like Miralles. Don't trust the engineer who says they have 1000 assistants … or the QS who says they can count. And for heaven's sake, don't trust the contractor who says they are a design-and-build expert – check him out. Ask what their qualifications are to design, to engineer, to co-ordinate. Check the letters after their name. Check with other customers – and not the ones they points you to. Check if, in truth, they will rely on the subcontractors to do the design.
And talking of subcontractors, check, check, check. Please Mr Employer, check out which subcontractors the main contractor is going to use. It is your building, after all. I know some first-class plasterers. But if the job is a smidgen too big for them, they pull in painters or kerb layers to help out. Please Mr Main-Contractor, don't trust the subcontractor who says they have oodles of men. Please don't give them a subcontract worth half his year's turnover. Please, please don't ask the subcontractor to design anything unless they have the actual qualifications to design.
None of this want of trust, none of this suspicion, none of the talk of being tricked, deceived, cheated, of wool pulled over eyes is personal. Dear me, no. This is objective. The fun is to find a way of reducing the risk in the transaction – not by being nasty but by not taking the other fellow on their word. It sounds awful to say I don't trust the witness or the supplier or the brick-maker or the designer. It's not an aggressive stance. It is simply looking around for corroboration. If the man says he can design something, look for corroboration. If the doctor says your foot will fall off, look for corroboration. If evidence comes only on paper, recognise the risk of being unable to test it; be suspicious, and if the lawyer says trust me – well, now you can happily tell him where to go.
Ten years after Latham's answers, have they worked? Tell me, then I will look for corroboration …
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction. You can write to him at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple, London EC4 7EY, or email him on email@example.com.