Consultant QSs are on a mission to convince us that they are the client’s best protection against the greedy reptiles in the contracting sector. In fact, the reverse is the case …
Just when we thought that the quantity surveyor’s archaic craft was dead and buried by modern partnering and integration they launch a spin campaign to take over the global construction industry.
It started in Building on 16 February when the RICS rather bizarrely asked the construction professions, who had been quietly looking forward to a more efficient consultant-quantity-surveyor-free industry, to support their request to the Home Office for special treatment for foreign QSs who were applying for, or renewing, visas. Then, on the 23 March, Michael Brown, the deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building, wrote in to ask whether, “with the shift to new forms of procurement”, “we still need so many traditional quantity surveyors?”.
The curt responses from senior RICS figures had a similar theme: we are “all dinosaurs trapped in a bygone age”, whereas QSs “have a leading role in shaping the future of our industry”. We learned that the RICS has dispatched quantity surveyor missionaries to the far-flung corners of the earth to convert heathen construction industries to the weird rituals involved in the cult of consultant quantity surveying, many of which involve the sacrificing of contractors.
Next, Sir Digby Jones, Building’s distinguished columnist and director of Bucknall Austin, quite uncharacteristically railed against modern methods of construction. Digby proposed that we should go back to traditional construction methods using local labour to create hand-built masonry that will last 200 years. This, presumably, will ensure the employment of all those extra quantity surveyors well into their comfortable retirement. We know from Digby’s modernising record at the CBI that he’s definitely not a Luddite, so what’s going on?
Then a second distinguished quantity surveyor columnist, Richard Steer, resurrected the (very) old story that all contractors are profit-grabbing, greed-is-good villains. Or, in Richard’s words: “Gekko-like figures emerging reptile-like from our buoyant, possibly overheating construction market.”
His answer was of an even older vintage. “Let the client fully define the brief, let the design team design and give them time to think … once the design has been developed, we can come up with no end of contract forms that properly allocate the risk
between client and contractor … Be warned: Gordon Gekko is alive and well today.” Such blatant hackneyed scaremongering is designed to steer clients away from integrated teams, back to QS/architect-led adversarialism.
Such blatant, hackneyed scaremongering is designed to steer clients away from integrated teams.
But Richard does raise a very interesting point by likening the Gordon Gekko character from the 1987 film Wall Street to 1980s management contractors and construction managers and today’s contractors.
The larger quantity surveyor organisations are becoming more commercial and results-driven. To maximise profits they are trying to take over the project management roles of the principal contractors.
Quantity surveyors are specialists in the narrow field of construction costs, competition and conflict. They rarely have the right experience or management skills to be successful construction project managers.
It is in these new-style commercial QS project management consultancies where the Gekkos are more likely to be found, so clients and contractors beware.
The serious point through, is that external consultant quantity surveyors (CQS) add no value to the industry’s product, while creating unnecessary cost and conflict in the process. Quantity surveyors’ work cannot be used to construct projects because it is tactically inaccurate to achieve cut price tenders. For every CQS engaged on a project, contractors (and subcontractors) have to employ their own quantity surveyors to defend their contractual entitlements. This duplication is one of the reasons why we have twice as many management staff on a project in the UK, than in France, why our costs are higher and efficiency lower and why we don’t have enough quantity surveyors.
Our industry needs professional consultant quantity surveyors. They form an essential part of every design and construction team. As soon as quantity surveyors realise that we are in the 21st century and join in with fully integrated design and construction teams, the great quantity surveyor shortage disappears overnight. And the Gekkos will move into private equity.
Colin Harding is chairman of Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding