Construction management has failed several Arts Council projects and now the Scottish parliament. Of course, if those clients had just listened in the first place …

The inquiry by Lord Fraser into the rise in cost of Holyrood House found “that the selection of construction management (CM) was the single factor to which most of the misfortunes that have befallen the project can be attributed”.

Regular readers may recall my article in Building (18 January 2002, page 50) in which I suggested that CM was not appropriate for the proposed rebuilding of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. There has also been a litany of projects with Arts Council funding, most notably Sadler’s Wells in north London, where CM had been used and where the project costs went out of control.

My article drew two letters, suggesting that I did not know what I was talking about, and that CM was perfectly all right as long as the construction manager knew what it was doing. Both were perfectly reasonable responses.

Lord Fraser took evidence from Colin Carter of Gardiner & Theobald, who set out seven “must haves” for CM to work effectively.

First, “an experienced and informed client with an understanding of construction and construction processes.” That ought to rule out CM for any Arts Council/lottery-funded projects such as theatres or arts centres, but does rule in experienced property developers.

Second, “an experienced and sufficient team with good leadership not forced down the route of just trying to keep the project going and managing any change.” This holds for any project.

Third, “well-defined roles and responsibilities from the start.” Where does the construction manager’s role overlap with the design team? The construction manager has no power to deduct monies due to the design team’s defaults. It is simply the “co-ordinator”, and has no power if things go wrong. All it can do is tell the client. This may not be conducive to team working.

A construction manager is neither the designer, estimator, cost manager nor contractor

Fourth, “an architect who can envisage the whole and the detail at the same time, if retrospective change is to be avoided without resultant ripple effect on trade packages.” One should ask that if an architect is able to do this, then why go down the CM route at all? If the detailed design is known to the architect, then why not go through a traditional route? CM is for use where construction must start before the design is complete.

Fifth, “sufficient time up front in planning, to foster a ‘no surprises’ culture and to avoid crisis management.” It is hard to see how this can ever be the case when CM is used. If there is not enough time to design the building fully, there is unlikely to be sufficient time to plan ahead. If nobody knows how the building is going to be designed at the start, then it is inevitable that when all the pieces are known there will be an element of reaction to the new design.

Sixth, “a very good construction instruction, approval and change process.” Nearly all contracts call for some change processes, but while it may be possible to give an estimate, the actual costs and time required for a change instruction are frequently inadequately estimated. Whereas traditional change processes permit the employer to decide whether or not it wants to go ahead with the change, under construction management it probably has no choice. With a change to the scope of one trade contractor’s package, there will inevitably be a knock-on effect to several others. By the time the construction manager has spoken to 10 or 20 trade contractors to get their estimates for the change to be instructed, the change itself will have had to be instructed.

Seventh, “an effective and well-managed risk management process.” But in CM, the risk is not “managed” – it is simply passed to the employer.

In fact, what responsibility does a construction manager have? It is neither the designer, estimator, cost manager nor contractor. It is evident from Holyrood and Portcullis House and all the other CM disasters of recent years that nobody is ever accountable under CM. The cost escalation should not come as a surprise.

Ashley Pigott is a partner in Wragg & Co in Birmingham