A look at the impact of the Egan report by the man that reported on construction five years ago.
Next week's government conference on the progress of the Egan initiatives and the Movement for Innovation will be an important event for the industry and clients. Building’s Hansom reported some weeks ago that “Latham” was no longer to be mentioned by the Construction Industry Board and that all reference to the reform programme was to be summed up in the code word “Egan”. Whether or not that is an accurate report – and senior sources close to the DETR hotly deny it – I was recently asked by the department to take a central role in the conference. Unfortunately, I had to decline because I shall be abroad. I cannot believe that the department would ask a “non-person” to be heavily involved in such an important initiative.

It is, however, proper to concentrate on Egan. Constructing the Team is five years old. Much of it has been implemented, either in part or whole sections as I recommended. Those elements that have not been pursued have either been achieved in other ways or are part of last summer’s Egan report. Very little has been dropped. I have no complaints. Far more has been done than I ever expected. Most reports to governments get binned, even if chaired by eminent judges and emanating from committees of the great and good. There are always reasons to do nothing. My report was much luckier, thanks to the determination of Tory construction minister Robert Jones and his Labour successor Nick Raynsford.

Last month, the government staged another important conference that both Sir John Egan and I attended. It was a Treasury-sponsored occasion to launch three new procurement guidance notes. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of such guidance. The Treasury will always be the lead department for the civil service because it controls the purse strings.

When I was undertaking my research for Constructing the Team in 1993-94, the Treasury was at best lukewarm and at worst highly sceptical of the enterprise. But it has since become very supportive, and is now a driving force for best practice throughout government.

It is plain from recent articles in Building, and from questions asked by distinguished architects and quantity surveyors at the Treasury conference, that senior consultants are unhappy about the guidance in the new document on procurement strategies that lays emphasis on prime contracting.

It is time for some dismal Jimmies of construction to welcome the new wind blowing through public sector procurement

It was, however, equally plain at the conference that the government has every intention of sticking by its guidance. In fact, the document specifically says that a designer, facilities manager, financier or any other organisation could act as a prime contractor – although whether the professional consultants will have the resources or the risk profile to accept such a role is another matter. But we can welcome the clear guidance on partnering.

The keynote speech to the conference was delivered by the chief secretary to the Treasury, Alan Milburn. He gave a highly competent and assured performance. He looked and sounded determined to push the Egan process forward in government. He set out five clear aims. The government promises to base its procurement decisions on value for money, including whole life cost, rather than lowest price. Projects should be well designed, with the early integration of the designers in the project team. There was a commitment to non-adversarial, longer-term relationships with the supply chain, involving teamworking and partnering. The government is to “address” its previous blame and risk-averse culture. It will measure its performance and benchmark it against appropriate partners. The minister stressed that the government had deliberately set itself ambitious targets and put itself in the spotlight. He accepted that the industry could hardly be expected to achieve the necessary pace of change unless the government “urgently and radically” improved its own performance.

The minister announced further steps to ensure the continuing progress of the Movement for Innovation, with a series of roadshows, and also by setting in place key performance indicators by government itself. In October, Milburn said, the government will survey contractors’ satisfaction with the government’s performance as a client. The target is 90% satisfaction by March 2002.