Want to know how to guarantee Olympic glory? Don't panic, get the contractors on board as early as possible and steer well clear of lowest-price tendering
Many of us were heartened by the Olympic business summit last month. Those running the 2012 Games are obviously enthusiastic about engaging business, including the construction industry, at the earliest possible stage. Predictably perhaps, this attitude wasn't widely reported in the national press. Instead, we have had a spate of bad news stories knocking the construction industry and questioning its ability to deliver.
I was dismayed to read a front-page article in The Times last week, which suggested that the main focus of construction procurement would be to weed out corruption among contractors. What corruption? What nonsense!
Our industry does not help itself either. One of the first things the RICS, RIBA and Institution of Civil engineers did after the London bid won was to promote the concept of an Olympics dispute resolution board. Our capacity for self-flagellation is astonishing and utterly unreasonable.
Let's get a sense of perspective. The Olympics are a one-off opportunity - it's more than 50 years since we last hosted them and it will be many years before we have the chance to do it again. The Games will showcase not only the UK and its construction industry, they will provide a lasting infrastructure, create many jobs and tackle social deprivation in east London.
As contractors, we will be using supply chains throughout the country to deliver the event and that means the whole nation stands to benefit.
We should all be working - including our national press - to get the most out of this opportunity, not looking at ways to knock it at every turn. Our goal must be to deliver the best Olympics ever and at the same time derive the maximum benefit for the whole country.
Let me tackle the issue of corruption head on. It's an emotive word and one that all too often gets linked with high-profile public sector projects. I don't deny that collusion has existed in certain quarters, especially at times of high workload when contractors are trying to juggle overstretched workforces and anxious clients. Indeed, the Office of Fair Trading recently uncovered evidence of some practices in the Midlands that are illegal under the new Competition Act. The OFT says it wants to stamp them out. The government could do so at a stroke. Not by employing an army of regulators - as implied by The Times - but by the public sector abandoning its unhealthy fixation with cut-throat lowest-price tendering.
Despite the findings of the Latham and Egan reports, and a wealth of excellent guidance from the Office of Government Commerce, the culture of lowest-price-equals-best-value is still prevalent. A recent survey of specialist contractors showed that only 14% of companies believed their tenders were assessed on quality as well as price and, most tellingly, almost a third believed they were assessed on price alone.
To avoid a repeat of Wembley or Cardiff, early contractor involvement in the Olympics is crucial. It’s the only way to ensure buildability and affordability are tackled straightaway. We must avoid competitive tendering at all costs
What contribution has that brought to our nation's sporting heritage? We have an excellent stadium in Cardiff, whose construction mortally wounded Laing, one of the industry's household names, a pedigree business with an outstanding reputation. And the lessons were not learned there. At Wembley, we appear to be witnessing a repeat performance on a grander scale. Why? Because the price was fixed unrealistically, too early in the scheme, before the design had been properly delivered.
Another lesson to be learned from the Wembley debacle is to allow contractors enough time to build the project. The 2012 Olympics are a fixed deadline, written in the world's diaries. We cannot spend the next four years pondering our procurement routes, refining plans and then expecting the contractor to turn cartwheels, with an unrealistic building programme.
To avoid a repeat of Wembley or Cardiff, early contractor involvement in the Olympics is crucial. It's the only way to ensure that buildability and affordability are tackled straightaway.
At all costs we must avoid contractors being involved at the last possible moment, leading to inflated outturn costs and, dare I say it, providing opportunities for the unscrupulous to exploit the situation at the expense of the nation.
I travel the world enough to know that the UK construction industry is world-class and can deliver fantastic projects of exceptional quality. Working with our supply chains we can deliver the best Games ever. But as an industry, we need to be engaged with the client now in a process of co-operative procurement, with integrated design and build involving everyone in the supply chain at the earliest possible point in the process.
I know from my early contacts with ministers and the Olympic Delivery Authority that the client wants to engage. Let's put all our effort into that. The rewards for our industry are worth more than money alone. The kudos of the Games, the global exposure of our achievements in delivering the stadiums and everything that goes with them will be an international advertisement for UK Construction plc and a fitting reward for the effort that will go into their creation.
John Spanswick is chairman of the Major Contractors Group. Email firstname.lastname@example.org