We all know partnering works, so why isn't everyone doing it? We should be setting a better example to the young people joining the industry
I wrote to Nigel Griffiths, the then construction minister, in September 2004 to send him my thoughts on the review of the Construction Act that I had chaired. The DTI's work of taking the review forward is still progressing and distinguished commentators write about it regularly in Building.
My letter is reproduced verbatim on the DTI's website. One of the points I made strongly is that the correct amount should be paid on time. The correct amount is not necessarily what the payee asks for, nor what the payer offers. One figure may be too high, the other too low. It should properly represent the work correctly done in accordance with the contract.
"On time" also means what the contract says. If the main contractor or the subcontractors have been so desperate for work that they have signed a contract with a 90-day payment period in it, and they are paid on day 89, that is not late. If, on the other hand, they have signed DOM/1 unamended, and are paid too little on day 73, that is certainly late and should have been challenged earlier by adjudication.
That right of adjudication is a precious one. It only existed in highly limited circumstances before Constructing the Team and the Construction Act. NSC/C and DOM/1 had some provision, but limited to disputes over set-off, and often amended or deleted. There was a barely used provision in GC/WKS1 Edition 3 and some supplementary provision in JCT81 (with Contractors Design). The NEC had real adjudication but it was a new document in 1993. Now, there are firm statutory rights and they are supported by the courts. That is true progress.
The main point of my letter to the minister is that partnering has spread widely since 1994. Where there is early integration of the team, and particularly of specialist contractors with design responsibilities, there can be no place for poor payment practices. The role of the professional client in demanding integration at the earliest stage is crucial.
There is now plenty of evidence of how partnering has produced remarkable results in quality, timeliness and cost control. Some of it has been published by the National Audit Office. It should be a matter of priority for Constructing Excellence, which has absorbed the former Construction Best Practice Programme and the Movement for Innovation, to keep producing a stream of case studies of best partnering practice. That would reassure those already doing it that they are getting best value and encourage more timid clients, especially in the public sector, that this is the way forward.
Let's not pretend that this is easy or comfortable.
Where there is early integration of the team, there can be no place for poor payment practices
It is worth imagining two young people just graduated from university with a BSc in quantity surveying and newly designated ARICS. One young graduate, John, joins a big city council or a QS practice. The other, Jean, becomes a surveyor with a large plc contractor.
On day one, John is put next to a greybeard who says: "Look, John, our job is to stop the client being ripped off by the greedy contractor, who is always looking for ways of screwing us."
On her first day, Jean is told by her greybeard boss: "Now, Jean, it's up to us to find the weaknesses in the works information so that we can see the opportunities for claims and variations that were not in our tender, because we had to be lowest price to get the job at all."
To both John and Jean, identically qualified QS professionals aged 22, partnering would seem alien and threatening. What would be their role if there was such integration? Would they have a role at all?
We need professional institutions and clients to insist that university courses teach students that their expertise would be essential at the earliest possible stage to build up the real costs with other team members, and do so in a non-confrontational way. They are not there to downgrade the specifications, but to ensure that the cost build-up excludes features that do not add value, such as unnecessary contingencies for late payment. Theirs is an essential role and worthy of their professional qualifications. They need proper reassurance of their vital part in best practice.
It really is win-win.