Client advisers or, to be more precise, quantity surveyors, appear to be persisting with a policy of advocating aggressive price-led tendering despite the acknowledged benefits of partnering and the pursuit of best value.
Documented evidence from almost every area of the construction industry clearly illustrates that competitive tendering never encourages value for money. It harms working relationships, nurtures poor practice and in the longer term leads to increased costs throughout the supply chain and an entirely unsatisfactory project.
So why advocate this form of working? It can only be because QSs like and need to perpetuate adversarial relationships in order to justify their existence, rather than demonstrating how they can add real value by working in a collaborative manner.
Take the following example: I recently met a Birmingham-based client who explained that he undertook a large number of relatively low-cost repeat projects each year. His gut feeling was that there had to be a more efficient way of procuring these jobs. So he went to those he felt should know – a leading local QS practice. For a fee in the region of £100,000 he asked the practice to assess how he could best procure and project manage these contracts.
Can you guess what it came up with? It said: "We recommend a competitive tender in order to attain a fixed price, but with a target of obtaining the lowest possible preferred option and complete risk transfer." Clearly, being a QS is nice work if you can get it. It does make one wonder, though, just how much qualitative research went into this recommendation.
This approach is a recipe for disaster. Not for the client advisers – they will earn even more fees sorting out the claims and administering the adversarial contracts – but for their clients. Why should the contractor try to understand the client's business to see how it can add value when there is absolutely no incentive for it to do so?
QSs like and need to perpetuate adversarial relationships in order to justify their existence
Negotiation and collaborative working foster an atmosphere of co-operation, understanding and, as a consequence, flexibility. This means that when problems arise on a project, there is a system, or at the very least a project team culture, that can deal with the issue and prevent rancour, infighting and large advisers' fees.
Unfortunately, the danger is that when a client goes for a competitive bid, and things go wrong, this clouds its judgment about the industry's ability to deliver. Indeed, in some cases, clients can ill-afford not to maintain the traditional, hostile method of procurement. The Birmingham client mentioned earlier now feels it has invested too much time and money to afford a change of heart for this year's project.
My beef is not with QSs per se, but with this naive idea that the old ways are the best.
On addressing a group of QSs a couple of years ago, I was advised that they would not recommend any form of partnering to a client as there was no proof that it brought benefits. Since then, that body of evidence has developed – look at the Construction Best Practice Programme's case studies or the Egan demonstration projects.
Organisations, whatever they do and wherever they sit in the supply chain, must move forward and Building's "Who's suing whom" item must disappear.
Zara Lamont is director of the Construction Best Practice Programme.