How to take on the world

Colin harding bw 2017

An integrated design process could help pave the way for the UK to power its global export drive after Brexit, writes Colin Harding

Tom Broughton rightly chides the construction industry’s institutions and trade associations for “not informing the Hackitt review in the way it should be, in an open and transparent process” and “missing an opportunity” (see Leader, 23 March). Most of these subtly luddite organisations are unlikely to be forthcoming – so here’s a summary of some of my previously published comments and suggestions as an independent construction professional with 50 years’ experience of design and construction management.

Construction is the only strategic global industry that doesn’t control the design of its own products. In all other industries, designers are an essential part of the overall production team – striving to improve design and value for the customer, while improving efficiency and reducing costs for the manufacturer. UK construction’s fragmented, adversarial structures and processes mean for the past two decades we’ve been doing the opposite. 

At the peak of the current most sustained, most profitable property boom in modern decades, developers, independent contract administrators and designers have been declaring profit margins of up to 25%. Consequently, costs to clients have been increasing above inflation since 2007, making the UK the most expensive country in which to build. Yet over the same period, the average net profit margin of the largest UK contractors fell to an unsustainable 1.2%-2%, for practical purposes – net cost. So it’s no good blaming the builders for this hyper-inflation.

In all other industries, designers are an essential part of the overall production team – striving to improve design and value for the customer, while improving efficiency and reducing costs for the manufacturer

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