As sure as night follows day, when you have a project with a fixed deadline and a client whose pocket is believed to be bottomless, it always happens. Miss the deadline and much of the government money spent on the dome and the Jubilee Line will be wasted.
Well, perhaps not entirely wasted, but the moment of maximum public impact will be missed and the government will be left with egg on its face.
It has all happened before. When the Festival Hall was built, the unions had the government between a rock and a hard place, so, in order to have the Festival Hall on time, it paid up. The construction industry suffered strikes and disruptions for the next two generations, a period that cost it dear.
The rebuilding of 10 Downing Street was the same: seemingly endless strikes and peace bought at a price to get the building finished. The Shell building on London's South Bank was about to suffer the same fate.
Shell had plenty of money and needed its building. Surely it would pay, just as the government had done. Happily, Shell was made of sterner stuff. The contractor, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (my family business), closed the job for six months and announced that it would restart work in its own good time and with a workforce that was congenial to it. Had Shell and the contractors not taken this view, the building would have taken years to finish.
The government should announce that London Transport has organised a fleet of boats to carry visitors to the dome; the Jubilee Line is, therefore, irrelevant
The Barbican, too, was riddled by strikes. McAlpine was brought in to get the job done. Its contract provided for it to be paid to fight strikes. The workforce, knowing of this contract, caused little or no trouble.
So, what can the government do to combat what is an increasingly strong position for the workforce on the Jubilee Line? Well, the first thing is for the clients to say, "We are very relaxed about when we get our Tube delivered"; and then to say to the contractors, "Take your time, don't be blackmailed." The workforce, of course, will merely laugh and call the government's bluff. The government should then announce that London Transport has organised a fleet of boats to carry visitors to the dome; the Jubilee Line is, therefore, irrelevant. It will, I assure them, be far cheaper in the long run to buy several dozen boats than to go down the road of appeasement. Visitors to the dome might actually prefer to go by boat, and perhaps the scheme might make a huge profit.
A similar problem is developing at the Royal Opera House. Here, the government must announce that every minute the building is open costs it money, so to keep it closed for extra months or even years is a blessing.
This whole issue can only be addressed from a position of strength. Do not assume that contractors caught between a penalty clause and their workforce can venture this problem alone. Do not imagine that the £2000 golden handshake promised to the electricians working on the Jubilee Line will be the end of the matter. Building workers and their trade unions are far from stupid; they can see a good thing when it's around.