On any analysis, the survey results are positive. All of the indicators except time show a steady upward trend between 1995 and 1999. The drop in the score for ability to keep to time was just 0. 02%, and followed a 10% improvement between 1995 and 1997 – this does not constitute a "blip" on anything but the most sensitive radar screen.
It is not, of course, anything like good enough, and despite the world-class performance of some teams on some projects, the industry has a long way to go before clients can be confident that they will invariably receive the quality of service that is now being delivered by the A teams. That is why I am sure we can give a resounding "yes" to Ann's final, rather weary, enquiry. In any case, the Egan agenda is already being implemented on real projects. More than 50 demonstration projects are now being undertaken, each of which seeks to demonstrate real improvement in one of the four areas highlighted in the Egan report: product development, project implementation, partnering the supply chain and the production of components.
Benchmarking and other forms of measurement are being widely adopted, and the Major Contractors Group's own benchmarking scheme will be one of the largest in the UK. Of course, clients have their own role to play, which includes embracing real partnering – as opposed to "you do everything I say and you might get the next job" relationships. They must also place contracts on the basis of value rather than lowest price. And clients are beginning to match rhetoric with action: the Ministry of Defence's move towards prime contracting and its determination to become a better client is only one example.
There are other, purely economic, reasons why Ann's fears of a repeat of the mid-1980s recession are misplaced. The graph for construction output between 1986 and 1993 looks like the Himalayas – genuine boom followed by virtual bust. In contrast, the graph for the mid-1990s mooches around in the foothills and, although there has been an upward trend in recent years, it is much steadier and (we hope) more sustainable. Where I do agree with Ann is that, however much we improve, you can't expect a starving person to perform as well as a healthy one, and so seriously adverse economic conditions will impair our ability to serve clients.
So perhaps we should end with a joint plea, to the government, that it must continue to provide a stable economic environment if we are to be fit enough to rise to the Egan challenge.
Jennie Price is chief executive of the Major Contractors Group.