When is a project like a biology lesson? When clients have to distinguish between parasitic, value-sucking consultants and their symbiotic integrated cousins
I was disappointed at the pretty pathetic reaction to my column on the future of external consultants in a modern construction industry ("Feeding the parasites," 1 February, page 33). Most of the reaction was along the predictable lines of "How dare you challenge our God-given right to protect our clients by independently supervising the dishonest and incompetent contractors?"

You would have thought that Sir Michael Latham had never written Constructing the Team, or that Sir John Egan had never made it crystal clear in Rethinking Construction that "substantial changes in the culture and structure of UK construction are required" (paragraph 51). Also, that traditional adversarial contracts "can add significantly to the cost of a project and often add no value for the client" (paragraph 69).

So, no apologies for upsetting the dyed-in-the-wool parasitic consultants. But, to the encouraging number of symbiotic consultants – a useful term for the association of two different organisms living with each other to their mutual advantage – who are already enjoying the benefits of partnering in integrated teams, an invitation to read on.

Among those who wrote to Building in reaction to the column, Construction Industry Council chairman Michael Dickson was the only one who saw the point (Letters, 15 March, page 34). He argued that by no means all consultants are parasitic and overall, the consultant sector is well worth the 11% of direct costs they add to UK construction. But that is only half the point. On top of that 11% are the consequential costs of a consultant's poor project management, which is the principal cause of delay, disruption and poor quality in the adversarial system.

Both Latham and Egan realised that it was the contractual separation of design and cost control from the construction management process that created waste and inefficiency. Latham estimated that streamlining the process through integration would therefore reduce overall costs by 30%; Egan put the figure at 50%.

Half of a site manager’s time is spent doing work for which the design consultant is paid

A BRE research project a long time ago discovered that half a site manager's time was spent chasing, correcting or actually doing work for which the project's external design consultants were being paid – all at the expense of actual site management. My observations of some current run-of-the-mill projects shows that the situation has, if anything, worsened.

Similarly, the work for which traditional quantity surveyors are paid can only be used in the procurement and final account stages, because generally it is tactically inaccurate. All measurements have to be done again by at least one other person. In addition, the contractor has to match every QS on the consultant's side to ensure its full entitlement. This is "fat" construction rather than "lean".

That is why UK construction projects are over-manned and profits are so low. A recent study funded by the DETR compared French and British design and construction performance on similar buildings on either side of the Channel, both designed by the same UK architect. The French contractors re-engineered the project, simplifying the design and taking out costs. Under the French contract, the UK architect could not object. Under JCT80, the same architect refused to allow the UK contractor to copy the French changes. The design costs in France were 25% less than on the UK side. France finished on time, Britain with a 28% overrun. Most tellingly of all, France had four staff on site compared with Britain's eight.

So the CIC should forget about trying to invent new jobs for independent consultants, and help us integrate in accordance with the Latham and Egan principles so we all become symbiotic. Then we can provide the total service that every other industry in the world seems to manage without disruptive and expensive external supervision.