Gavin Clarke explains why Royal Bank of Scotland projects are the world’s best places to work - and what QSs working on other jobs can learn from them

I was reading one of the new weekly QS mags the other week which contained several letters, at least three I think, from professionals who proclaimed that RBS Gogarburn - The Royal Bank of Scotland’s new world HQ in Edinburgh - was the best project in the known universe.

At the time of reading the article I’d been up to my neck taking part in a fairly crucial bid and I didn’t get the opportunity to respond to their enthusiastic proclamations. As I have more than a little personal insight into this particular project I feel obliged to add a few comments of my own.

The main reason for the success of Gogarburn is the Royal Bank’s enviable track record of throwing massive financial resources at their projects.

Does this sound too simple?

When I’d visited Gogarburn for the first time, I’d only recently lost my job as an estimating manager for one of the UK’s best loved and most successful construction companies, which had decided to shut down in Scotland. That decision was prompted by outrageous bidding from the likes of Ballast, MDW, Trenthams, Lilley and Dickie to name but a few - see the article I wrote about it in September 2003 [type “Gavin Clarke” into Building’s online archive].

At the time, that piece was regarded as somewhat naive by some of my fellow professionals. Does anyone now, I wonder, notice what these companies have in common ?

Anyway, I toddled down to Gogarburn and was absolutely floored by the money that the RBS had spent. There were mahogany stairs and infrared taps in the cludgie … plasma televisions all over the place … security like Fort Knox. In 30 years in this industry I’d never seen anything like it. And this was just the site hut.

This immediately took me back to one of my very first site visits, as a contractor’s QS back in 1977, in Dundee. The company I was working with were refurbishing the RBS branch in suburb of Lochee.

It had mahogany stairs, infrared taps in the cludgie and plasma TVs all over the place – and this was the site hut


As newlyweds, my wife and I had recently bought our first house and were engaged in furnishing it and, on site with the RBS QS for the first time, I noted almost immediately a disturbing fact that pretty much established my personal position on the very bottom rung of the ladder in the greater scheme of things.

We’d just carpeted the lounge of our Wimpey semi with a dark brown shag pile carpet at the prohibitive cost of £7 per square yard (laid). The RBS were covering the walls of their Lochee branch with a textile wallpaper costing £15 per m2 (supply only).

So, nothing changes. Loadsa dosh, a canny cost plan from, preferably, a Scottish QS and Bob’s yer auntie - you have a foolproof plan for an easy life on site. Everybody’s making money, everybody’s happy and you find yourself with a cracking project to remember.

So all you QSs out there should try basing your cost plans on RBS cost models rather than on the sometimes ludicrous historical tenders submitted by some of the guys I mention above. I know you do it, and I’ve been dealing with the fallout it causes throughout my professional life.

As for me, I’m very happily back with the same company I’d been forced to leave and now in one of their specialist contracting divisions. Specialists! Says it all, doesn’t it? Why did I work with mainstream contractors for so long ? They’re virtually all gone - Mowlem’s next and a’body else apart fae’ Balfours is gone too. Every remaining “contractor” is a “facilities manager”. Companies make more money on their PFI equity stakes than from building things.

Back in the late 1970s, Wimpey was probably one of the largest Scottish contractors with a Scottish HQ in Edinburgh - they had almost 20 estimators working in Barnton Grove. Now you’ll be lucky if there are 20 professionally trained estimators in Scotland, never mind in one company in Edinburgh.

I’m one of them, and most of the others I know are old crocks like me. This might tell you all something about the industry, I’d guess. Next time I’m out on my neck, I’m going to become a mountain guide - just watch this space.