The FA may have other things on its mind than the construction of Wembley, but news that the stadium is presently hosting a good old-fashioned firefight between sub and main contractors should give anyone left at Soho Square additional cause for concern.
In case you missed the start, hostilities broke out when Cleveland Bridge was kicked off the site by Multiplex after disputes about design, scheduling and payments. The steel contractor is now suing its employer for something like £15m, and there have been warnings that the project will be delayed. The client, Wembley National Stadium Ltd, has written a letter to the FA and other stakeholders to reassure them that Multiplex has contingency plans that will save the job from extra time and penalties. Meanwhile, sources close to the project say the firm’s subcontractor problems will push the £757m scheme well over budget.
Of course, the FA may feel that it has the comfort of a guaranteed maximum price contract; if that turns out to be the case, Multiplex’s rivals may feel a certain schadenfreude. Remember the ripple of fear that passed through the industry after Laing impaled itself on Cardiff’s millennium stadium? And remember how Multiplex took on Wembley at a price that was well below what any UK firm was willing to offer? Its plans for a joint venture with Bovis fell apart because Bovis would not go lower than £390m, and Multiplex, keen to crack the UK market, came in alone at £347m.
Technically, the project has been superb – thanks in no small part to the drive and can-do attitude that Multiplex brings to its work. But bearing in mind that construction inflation has been running at more than 6% since it signed on the dotted line, you have to wonder whether Multiplex has bitten off more than it can chew. Particularly since there have been plenty of other signs – such as safety problems and a changing management team – that the firm is not finding the British game as straightforward as it thought.
Denise Chevin, editor
The status seekers
So the Inland Revenue is to have another go at construction's "self employed". Letters are on their way to 57,000 companies that the Revenue suspects of evading PAYE and National Insurance by pretending that their staff are working for themselves. The unions and most big firms agree that if the Revenue is successful, it would lead to a better regulated, better trained and safer workforce, and would therefore be a good thing. The problem is that success depends on stamina. The Revenue's last crackdown in 2001 was effective for a few months; since then the number of people carrying CIS cards – the passport to self-employed status – has grown to nearly 450,000 according to UCATT. The fact is that the criteria for deciding who is truly self-employed, and so eligible for a CIS card, has been fudged for years. If construction is to go legit, the Revenue has to work out its policy on this issue, and the industry working party looking at the CIS cards needs to come up with clear guidance for employers and tax inspectors.