The construction industry this week has been swotting up its psychology, computing, accounting and media studies skills. It’s leaving the creative writing to us, though …

Try, try again

The last time we wrote about Marks Barfield it was to relate the sorry story of a project in Dubai for which the firm had not been paid. This led to the London Eye designers laying off half their staff. So it was a relief to see the two principals defiantly enjoying themselves at a delightful bash at the Institute of Contemporary Arts to launch a book celebrating their work. Julia Barfield said that despite the fact that her solicitors were still chasing the money for the Dubai job, she had not lost her faith in the Middle East and the firm is doing a project in Kuwait. I’m sure we all wish her the best of luck …

Let’s get quizzical

Speaking of architects, it was heartening to see Peter Drummond, boss of BDP, fighting the good fight against fee cuts in Building (23 April, page 32). Certainly, it is a brave man who says no to Tesco in public – and Drummond should be saluted for rejecting the retailer’s attempt to impose a 40% pay cut. However, one architect raised a quizzical eyebrow to me at the remarks, claiming to have been seriously undercut by the firm on recent bids. A misunderstanding, I’m sure. Surely Drummond’s firm can’t be guilty of the practice he condemned?


We wish Willmott Dixon good fortune in its attempt to get some good national press for the construction industry. The contractor is building a £4m sustainable residential project in Swindon for TV architect Kevin McCloud’s development company Hab Oakus, and the whole project is to feature in a documentary. Andrew Geldard, Willmott Dixon’s head of communications, described the show as “warts and all”. The project has already had a few hiccups – McCloud brought in Glenn Howells after dropping architect Wright & Wright in a row over fees. Let’s hope it’s not all warts …

Safe as housing

And now in financial news: at last week’s Networth construction and property bash Tony Williams – whose company, Building Value, sponsored the event – pointed out a rarely cited upside for us taxpayers who bailed out the banks: “The government would get more than 60% of their investment back – over £50bn – and eventually a whole lot more. In fact, the belief is that the amount of cash raised will be much more than that generated by the Conservatives’ privatisation of state assets in the eighties and nineties.” Sounds great. Somebody should have told Gordon Brown.

Pimp my tender

A contractor called last week with a strange business proposition: he wanted to know how to make a tender more “winning”. A

smart question, as reading these direct appeals to the client’s wallet is often akin to wading through a swamp in lead-lined boots. The gentleman in question thought getting a journo to work their magic on this stuff would give his company a competitive edge. Just the sort of thing to ensure clients get to the end of the tender without nodding off prematurely. Naturally, we are only interested in reporting the facts, so we couldn’t help – but you have been warned.

Fit-out firm feathers nest

I hear construction skills aren’t so far in the doldrums as we’ve been led to believe. A site manager for a well known fit-out contractor recently came across a Polish labourer borrowing a client’s PC. The fellow explained that he was using it to check his stocks and shares – back in Poland he’d been a trader. The site manager, I’m reliably informed, retained the worker on his labourer’s salary but switched his duties to buying and selling stocks for the half the project team. Even the vagaries of the market are a better bet than the construction business these days, it seems.