Mott MacDonald’s merger with Franklin + Andrews, exclusively revealed in Building last week, reopens the debate about the future of QSs. Martin Bishop, Franklin + Andrews’ chairman, thinks copycat mergers are likely, as is another round of soul searching for QSs (page 20). Bishop saw no future in independence, and thought that a merger with another QS would only be “more of the same”. So, recalling our columnist Tanya Ross’ rallying cry to the profession a couple of years ago, it was a case of “adapt or die”.

There is a sense, however, in which the firms appear to be responding to the medium-term outlook rather than a grand, strategic vision. In the commercial sector, where clients still value independent QSs, output is forecast to fall 7% this year and next; in infrastructure, which is more suited to one-stop shops, it is likely to rise 7%. But it is possible to put a more positive spin on events. It was only four years ago that QSs were written out of the picture altogether – literally so, in the case of the Egan report. There was a growing consensus that their core skills would soon be taken over by computers, and they started rebranding themselves as project managers or construction economists. “Call us what you like,” one senior partner blustered, “but don’t you dare refer to us as a QS.” Ouch. By its actions, Mott MacDonald appears to have acknowledged that they do have a place in the new order. It’s not the old-fashioned role of man-marking contractors, of course. According to one client, QSs will need to be integrated into the design process, where 80% of the cost decisions are resolved, and be chief guardians of value for money. In football parlance, they must become the industry’s liberos – more Franz Beckenbauer than Tony Adams.

Other developments mean that clients will increasingly rely on QSs. One is risk management, which has hitherto been the preserve of contractors. Then there’s the experimental use of off-site manufacture and logistics, all of which will make it imperative to track costs accurately. So, from being a profession in search of a role, QSs may well emerge as the glue holding the whole supply chain together. It’s a funny old world.