Building is to be congratulated for highlighting the French inroads made over recent years in the UK construction market (21 January, page 38).
For as long as the UK industry, and most particularly its clients, fails to understand how the French contractors have achieved their success, French prospects in the UK will be set fair for continuing expansion.
The comments made by both Vinci Construction chairman Philippe Ratynski and Bouygues chairman Yves Gabriel are very forthright. In France – in contrast to the UK – the construction industry is largely driven not by consulting architects and engineers but by the contractors themselves. As Ratynski says, they succeed by “adding value”, and as Gabriel says, it has been French engineers (by which he means contractors) that have been at the origin of modern, industrialised construction techniques. By contrast, the traditional UK professional liability and insurance arrangements make it well-nigh impossible for UK contractors to innovate “à la Française”. While PFI has opened the door to French contractors, UK contractors remain comparatively shackled and fettered by an uncompetitive national process.
It is therefore all the more alarming to read Sir Michael Latham say that the response to the uptake of project insurance has been very disappointing (page 14), particularly in the context of PFI schemes. How much more of the UK construction industry – never mind valuable export markets – will be handed to French contractors on a plate before we can expect any meaningful reaction?
If nobody will listen to Sir Michael, who will be listened to? Or should we welcome the European single market in construction with open arms and damn the consequences?
John Goodall, director technical and environmental affairs, FIEC (European Construction Industry Federation)