Some part of me feels that blogging wasn't invented as a way to discuss the latest movements in construction industry contracts. When Tim Berners-Lee sat down and invented the world wide web, I somehow suspect that the intricacies of single-stage tendering as opposed to long term partnering agreements weren't right at the front of his mind.
However, 10 years after Egan, framework contracts are once more a hot topic in the industry - which is the subject of my blog.
As this week's feature in the magazine shows, these huge, often multi-billion-pound, construction deals are very much under pressure, given the new economic climate. Clients are starting to wonder whether agreements signed at the height of the boom make sense now that contractors are willing to bid, and bid low, for any work at any time.
It's not difficult to see why they're a hot topic either - they're about money. Which, in case you hadn't noticed, makes the industry go round. Money is also the main reason why, whatever both clients and contractors say, there will be frameworks that don't make it out the other side of the recession. In this climate, with job losses in all sectors everyday, some clients are always going to be of the view that the lowest price is the best price. Even if they know it might ultimately end up costing more through variations, there are many clients whose finance departments just aren't going to let them sign off big sums today. It shouldn't be underestimated the pressure that even intelligent, forward-thinking procurement directors in big clients will be under from their own internal finance folk, who just won't understand that building buildings is different from buying office stationery.
The obvious fear is that's going to lead us back into the dysfunctional, confrontational industry we'd all hoped we were slowly leaving behind.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. Encouragingly there doesn't seem to be a wholesale change in attitudes happening. On the whole QSs, despite what many contractors think, aren't advising clients to scrap their frameworks and return to single-stage tendering. They are saying contractors need to look again at the prices they expect for work, and there is a big variation in the amount of savings clients are being advised they can expect, but they aren't telling people to start again.
And at the top level in contractors there is a realisation that prices are going to have to fall, at least for a short while, whatever the materials prices and other pressures they're under.
BAA's decision to buy its big future schemes outside of its framework clearly sent a certain amount of panic through the boards of contractors, that all their other deals would go the same way. But, two months on, it looks like the dams haven't broken. Mostly, frameworks are still holding.
The question at the moment is, how will they change, and how will that change be managed. Contractors are receiving more and more letters from clients telling them they have to cut their prices or else, without a proper discussion of how that can be achieved. As we all know, a recession is the worst time to be locked in to unsustainable commitments on price that can drive smaller players under once work picks up and materials and labour costs start to rise again.
Get everyone round the table - client, contractor, QS, supply chain - and it may be possible to come up with an answer that everyone can be happy with. And everyone can stay in business. And that's a sentiment even the open-source-sharing-and-caring Tim Berners-Lee would approve of.