But the exponential growth in the numbers of evangelistic converts has its drawbacks. It's been too easy to be diverted by politically correct side issues and seduced by buzzwords that don't mean very much out on site. We are in danger of losing sight of the key principle of Rethinking Construction: integration based on mutual trust that will catalyse innovation. We need to refocus our efforts on this if we are to keep the "revolution" on track.
Rethinking Construction says: "The taskforce sees the industry dealing with the project process as a series of sequential and largely separate operations undertaken by individual designers, constructors and suppliers who have no stake in the long-term success of the product and no commitment to it. Changing this culture is fundamental to increasing efficiency and quality in construction.
"The most successful enterprises do not fragment their operations – they work back from the customers' needs and focus on the product and the value it delivers to the customer. The process and the production team are then integrated to deliver value to the customer efficiently." But away from the Movement for Innovation elite, there is still considerable resistance to modernisation, particularly the principle of integration. We are all going to have to come to terms with the Egan reforms – even architects. The industry cannot continue any longer as a fragmented, bickering, rabble of builders and their mates. We shouldn't have needed Sir John Egan to have told us this.
If construction is to have a credible future, we have no choice but to offer a fully integrated service and guaranteed product that will be delivered to time and cost and won't need any maintenance until nature intervenes. That is impossible under the traditional procurement routes. Clients, consultants, contractors, specialists and suppliers need to come together in a genuine spirit of partnering and start to trust each other (notice I omit lawyers from this list).
The industry cannot continue any longer as a fragmented, bickering rabble of builders
The amount of construction litigation has fallen since the publication of Sir Michael Latham's Constructing the Team. Hence the enthusiasm from lawyers to help us draft partnering contracts for nothing. They are well aware that the more complicated the contract, the more fees they are going to earn from the luckless participants.
Embarrassing though it is, I confess to playing a very small part in the development of JCT80. The idea was to legislate for every conceivable problem in the minutest detail, so that conflict and disputes would disappear. As we all know, it didn't quite work out like that. This lesson should not be ignored. Dominic Helps' excellent column advising against partnering contracts (23 February, pages 58-59) explains far more clearly than I can that the more you legislate, the less you control.
As soon as one side of a partnering arrangement feels the need for a formal contract, true partnering has already ended. Successful partnering depends on mutual trust and respect, which cannot be written down. Contracts such as PPC2000 are really no better than JCT80 and will only encourage "adversarial partnering" and maintain old divisions.
With the right attitudes, contracts are unnecessary. We have just completed, very successfully, an M4I demonstration project with McDonald's Restaurants, that proved that partnering without contracts can work. It enabled a restaurant to be built on a contaminated site, which under the traditional route would have been way over the budget. Together we saved £126k, £33k of which will be saved on every future McDonald's – a massive gain.
Colin Harding is chairman of Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding.