So much of the world - and construction in particular - looks like the back end of a panto horse. Imagine if we had a powerful, no-nonsense wheeler-dealer taking over the reins…
This year’s panto is “Donald and his Duckies”. It will play all year and has a monthly theme. Yes, you guessed it, Donald is played by who else but Donald Trump Esquire. January’s curtain-up is when Donald becomes President of the United States and the United Kingdom (yes, this is panto, folks!). Buttons is played by Nigel Farage, asked by Theresa, the fairy godmother, to get Donald to weave his businessman’s know-how to do a deal over Brexit (the UK being in such a pretty pickle, of course). Donald, with his businessman’s hat on, had told her to sling her hook – or get to the back of the queue, I suppose. But thanks to Buttons’ intervention, Donald gets the outlines of a deal done, which is why they make him UK president too.
The second act opens in February and is Donald doing a businessman’s deal (he is having no truck with politicians’ deals) with the president of the European Union. Donald is a take-it or leave-it businessman. He frightens the life out of President Juncker (who plays Wishy Washy in Aladdin) when he threatens to take his magic lamp away; threatens too to nick his job; and tells him to sling his hook. Donald likes the idea of having a third presidency – oh yes, anyone but Jean-Claude, please!
By March, the Brexit thing is a done deal; that’s the way businessmen do their stuff. Juncker is now playing a pirate in Dick Whittington’s ship. Ah well, the parrot on his shoulder is a real laugh. Europe’s President Trump is now asked by the president of our building industry to sort us all out. This is on 1 April. What’s your problem, asks Donald? Oh, says stage-door manager Mark Farmer, we have a problem in training enough plasterers, brickies, chippees, roofers and more besides. This fellow has written a tome about all this stuff. Money to train them is what we need. By May, businessman President Donald has done a deal – because that’s the kind of guy he is: he gets things done. Money is no problem. There was no time to do a business deal without the stuff. He simply gives money to anyone who turns up at Donald’s Industry Training Board (we used to call it a grant), to be trained. He does a deal with the brickmakers, paying them tuppence per brick and pays up to the training board. Does the same with the plasterboard outfitters, the roof-tile makers and others – just tuppence brings in millions. Some balked, so he did a deal; he had an eye on becoming president of their firms. Come July the money is rolling in. The lads, lasses, apprentices, even blokes in their middle age are training for free and getting cash in their toolboxes as well. Mrs May is on holiday. Donald is asking, what else can I do?
Well, says the fella in Donald’s local pub, we have these ever so complicated construction contracts called NEC, JCT, ACA and more. No one understands them, no real builder actually operates the rules in them: in real construction no one likes them. Well, says Donald, I will do a deal with these form inventors. I will become the president of the JCT/NEC organisations, and I will become president of RICS, RIBA, and ICE and tell them to sling their hook.
So come August all these complicated forms are cancelled. In their place Donald has one page – the work, the price and the programme. True, no one can fathom a programme, so that bit is left blank. Wow, come September this President Donald is doing businessmen’s deals like a measles rash.
Getting paid come October is a doddle. On day one of the contract to build, the contractor opens a stakeholder account. The employer’s QS forecasts the first interim lump of money and on day one it goes into that stakeholder account … and all, yes all in the supply chain get their cash from that super safe source. In one swipe, Donald has trumped the terrible threat of folk going bust on the suppliers and subcontractors. Come November Donald has spotted this 28-day adjudication malarkey. So he gets Buttons Nigel to export it to the American construction game as well. Then Donald announces that the whole of Europe will have it – he is, after all, President of Europe, too. Donald hasn’t stopped yet, he announces that this 28-day idea is suitable for all and every businessman’s dispute, not just building.
And lo and behold we are into December 2017. We will have had a year of being run by a businessman. Hitherto it has been a panto run by politicians, civil servants, lawyers and institutions. We have been taking ourselves too seriously. True, Donald is a laugh a minute, true he wheels and deals, true he is a risk taker, and true we haven’t had the likes of him running the public show. The public has sent an awfully big message to the “Yes Minister” folks, telling them that their shenanigans are over. The audience kept on shouting “Behind you”, but no one on stage took any notice. Well, says Buttons, “You are now!”
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple