By 1872 they had built a model premises in Bournemouth. They directly employed and trained joiners, carpenters, drainlayers, bricklayers, plumbers, blacksmiths, plasterers, masons, glaziers, painters, decorators, polishers, stable boys and drivers, providing a complete, integrated construction service.
George & Harding was a model employer, running a subsidised sick club, guaranteeing continuous employment in the days of one hour's notice, and providing free rudimentary healthcare. In 1882, it formed the Bournemouth Working Man's Permanent Building Society, which enabled its employees to own their own homes at a time when banks would not lend to working people.
The firm partnered (in the true and honourable sense of the word) with eminent local architects, engineers, estate agents and lawyers. And when electrical installation and steel-frame construction evolved, it partnered with the leading specialists in those fields for two or more generations.
George & Harding was, 130 years ago, a modern integrated partnership, showing enormous respect for its customers, its employees and fellow traders. The firm built up long-term relationships with most of its clients and suppliers without the encumbrance of contracts. Its empirically designed projects were constructed without dispute or serious defect and with virtually open-ended implied guarantees.
It could all be straight out of Sir John Egan's Rethinking Construction: integrated design and construction teams, integrated supply chains, respect for people, contract-free construction based on mutual trust, and a focus on customers and projects.
My ‘consultant-free industry’ positively integrates consultants into the service provision team
In other words, the best of Victorian values were steadily lost from 1885 as regulation was relentlessly imposed by the state and the supervising consultants' professional institutions.
Disgruntled correspondents in recent letters pages have referred to my columns of 1 February and 28 March, asking for my own proposals on how the Eganised construction industry could be structured. My own vision replicates that of Sir John's in Rethinking Construction and that of my Victorian predecessors. The industry should consolidate not into the 15 or so vast supply-chain pyramids so favoured by large contractors and the Treasury but into, say, 5000-10,000 fully integrated constructors of all sizes dealing directly with customers and assuming full responsibility for the design and management of their projects.
This is my "consultant-free industry", which does not take consultants out of the process but positively integrates them into the service provision team. I see the architect, contractor, quantity surveyor and specialists first partnering, then merging to create one-stop construction teams dealing directly with their clients. These constructor teams will not necessarily be led by the contractors. If other team members have the drive, management expertise, financial resources and suitable willing partners, there is no reason why they shouldn't become construction consultants or managing specialists alongside the design constructors, as is happening already.
The Rethinking Construction improvements in efficiency, reliability, safety and quality will not be achieved if independent cost consultants, managers or client advisers are imposed. They only blur the relationship and responsibilities between client and constructor and maintain the traditional adversarial culture.
Colin Harding is chairman of Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding.