Two years later, England have just wrapped up an impressive series win against Sri Lanka and have hauled themselves back up the international rankings. Not surprisingly, everybody now agrees that the central contracts were a good thing.
So where's the analogy? For England cricket team, read UK construction industry; for central contracts, read partnering agreements. When you think about it, the broad arguments for and against partnering are exactly the same as those for and against cricket contracts. The difference is that, in our industry, we're still having the argument – and that's partly because so many of us are still confused about what, exactly, partnering means.
Like any relationship, partnering should be based on familiarity, understanding, flexibility and – the key word – respect. If the partners don't like each other, don't trust each other, or don't value each other's contribution, then the relationship is unlikely to work. And, like any relationship, it requires a bit of care in selecting your partner.
The central contract system gave cricketers credit for being grown-up enough to be responsible about training and fitness; it also gave the management team credit for picking the right players in the first place. Some clients worry that a partnering agreement will commit them to a long-term relationship with a contractor, or trade contractor, who will use it as an opportunity to earn extra profit with no extra input. But surely that prompts another question: why are you dealing with that kind of supplier in the first place? Why not take the time and trouble to cultivate a relationship with a supplier that will genuinely add value to your project?
In the long term, partnering will weed out suppliers who are long on promise and short on delivery
When I suggest to clients that my company can provide a better level of service, I don't expect them to take me at face value. I expect them to challenge what I say, to check our resources and to demand examples of the work we've done – and if they don't, then, quite frankly, they're not doing their job properly. In recent years, there's been a growing onus on trade contractors to provide a far broader range of skills: in other words, precisely the kind of added value that partnering is all about.
Take my own company, which has "matured" in light of the above demands. We now offer a range of extra services, principally because it makes the whole operation more effective and manageable, and that is what our clients expect. If they didn't get it from us, they'd go looking elsewhere.
Which brings us to the concern most frequently voiced about partnering: that suppliers will become complacent and hand partnering projects over to their B team once they've been safely secured. But where's the logic in this? If a partnership isn't working out, then it's time to find another partner (which means that, in the long term, partnering will weed out suppliers who are long on promise and short on delivery).
The only threat comes from those who pay lip service to partnering but still choose firms on the basis of the lowest bid. In other words, the long-term financial benefit and efficiency of a sound partnership are sacrificed in favour of short-term gains. This harks back to the bad old days, when some clients focused so hard on preventing their suppliers making a profit that they forgot to make one themselves.
Luke Wessely is managing director of Slough-based contractor Allan Roofing.