The Fraser Report may have passed down its judgment on the Scottish parliament building, but the mud is still flying. Here, Building’s readers join the fray and Rob Smith, senior partner at Davis Langdon, defends his firm’s decisions as cost consultant on the project

<a href=Holyrood reaction" src="" imagecode="69404" />
Holyrood reaction

Happy to comment

I guess it is journalist’s shorthand to represent my stated preference for reading the Fraser Report before expressing a view as “Davis Langdon refused to comment”.

Having read it, I am glad to comment. The passage to which you refer – and the only criticism of this practice in the report – relates to one specific element of the project, the roof over the public foyer. As pointed out to the inquiry, the circumstances of this were:

The design was first revealed, as a concept only (there being at that time hardly anything on paper), at a meeting in Barcelona in March 2001 attended by Davis Langdon partner Ian McAndie and Alan Ezzi, then the client’s project manager.

We immediately advised Alan Ezzi that the concept could not be delivered for the budget; he therefore requested that an alternative design should be produced that was more attuned to the budget.

No such design was ever produced. We do not know why, and we had no power to insist that alternatives were produced – this being the prerogative of the client and his project manager.

Our advice that the concept under development would be more than three times as expensive as the budget allowance was reported to the client’s progress group at its meeting the following month – some six months before even a provisional order was placed for the roof.

As we put it to the inquiry, in the absence of alternative ideas being put forward, and no instructions having been issued by the client to make savings, we believe that we were (and are) entitled to assume that there was no enthusiasm on the part of the client body for the much simpler solution assumed in the budget. In short, the client wanted the more expensive roof – as he was absolutely entitled to. This is also consistent with Lord Fraser’s primary conclusion that “costs rose because the client … wanted increases and changes or at least approved of them ...”; with his conclusion that whenever there was a choice between quality and cost, or between time and cost, cost was on each occasion placed second; and with the quotation from Ian McAndie with which Lord Fraser concluded the introduction to his report, to the effect that “nobody tells Enric [Miralles] to think about economy with any seriousness”.

I would add that, as a result of this change, an area that was originally perceived as a fairly low-key linking space with a tented roof has now become the public heart of the building – the place where the public gather, where television reporters broadcast etc. It is, in short, a wonderful space and one that captures many of the magical qualities of the building – but it is a very different space from that originally contemplated, and the difference has nothing to do with cost advice, but with the way that designs were being developed.

In summary, we did not then, and do not now, know what else we could have done – but we stand as part of the team (including, of course, the client’s own people), and we must therefore be prepared to share the team’s medicine.

What we will not be doing, to pick up on the word used in your leader, is “hammering” anybody. This misrepresents everything that we stand for, and is another unhappy piece of shorthand for a far more studied analysis of what makes projects succeed.

Rob Smith, senior partner, Davis Langdon

Where was the management?

I read with interest your article by Paul Morrell (3 September, page 40) in which he sought to draw on some lessons learned from the fiasco of Holyrood: a case study that is to project management what the Titanic was to safety at sea. While I welcome the dissection of fact and forensics, Mr Morrell fails to highlight what we in the world of project management take as our basic brief: to bring harmony where there is discord, thereby allowing the project to be delivered on time and to budget.

This is not rocket science – this is a basic part of the project manager’s role. There are many other aspects of Mr Morrell’s analysis that appear to be less simple than merely going “back to basics”. He expects a great deal when he writes “clients need to demonstrate a sense of leadership, unity of purpose, faith and commitment”. It is the project management team that has to take hold of the project and move it forward. As project manager on the £250m BBC White City development it was Gleeds role to translate the needs of the client into a workable brief that met the needs of a large group of interested parties.

That Holyrood had “a diverse and multi-threaded client structure without clear lines of authority” is hardly a revelation. I am afraid for most of us it is what we are paid to manage.

Ian Gibson, managing director, Gleeds Management Services

Don’t bash construction managers

Here we go again: the construction industry being criticised, and this time the construction management arm particularly is getting it in the neck. It seems that those who put up the buildings are the only ones under the spotlight.

A lot of people like to think they are in control, but for most this is an illusion. Many have an axe to grind; all they do is confuse the design issues and escalate cost.

All clients want is a building to suit their particular purposes and show how exceedingly well they are doing in their own sphere. They seem to show no concern about how the internal structure is to be set out, and have not got down to the detail of what is required. Only when the building is about to be occupied are the inadequacies and deficiencies in design noticed. The variations and design changes then arrive, the costs escalate, and the programme goes out of the window.

The architect does not get the full design brief from the client because the client does not know what is wanted in detail. On incomplete information, they proceed to design an edifice for themselves; a design that will probably get them an award (with no thought for cost, but perhaps with a passing interest as to what can be got past the client). The situation is exacerbated by the architect’s inability to design the detail in adequate time to allow the building to be built. This is either because they have not thought it through properly; because the big man has passed on to subordinates information that they are ill-equipped to deal with; or because they are trying to save costs by providing inadequate or insufficient staff for the level of design detail required?

Construction management is a very good method of procurement but all too often the appointment is made far too late in the construction process. The construction manager should be appointed at the same time as the architect, if not before. If this is achieved the contractor could really be held accountable.

Peter Whitbread, by email

Holyrood unveiled: Lord Fraser called a Holyrood a 'unique one-off' but criticised key aspects of how the project was handled
Holyrood unveiled: Lord Fraser called a Holyrood a 'unique one-off' but criticised key aspects of how the project was handled

Lay off PFI

It appears that you have once again chosen to misrepresent the nature of the Private Finance Initiative. You say in your editorial that the PFI industry has lessons to learn from Lord Fraser's inquiry. I would suggest that one of the lessons

to be learned is that PFI brings large public service building projects in on time and on budget. In its report PFI: Construction Performance, the National Audit Office contrasted the historic record of public-sector building projects with the current situation. Now more than 75% of projects delivered through PFI are on time and within budget. In the past, more than 70% were late and over budget.

Moreover, a Treasury-commissioned report by Mott MacDonald concluded that publicly procured projects tended to underestimate project costs and duration and overestimate benefits. The report showed that PFI projects, however, benefited from higher levels of diligence and were able to reduce these risks.

In his Holyrood report, Lord Fraser described how the PFI route was considered but rejected in 1998 because such a course might have caused “unacceptable delay to the completion of the Parliament building”. There was a political incentive to build it quickly to guard against any possible repeal of the devolution laws. “This,” says Lord Fraser, “is the point where the wheels began to fall off the wagon.”

Construction management became the chosen route. This fast-track procurement method is at the opposite end of the scale to PFI in terms of risk profile to the client. The report describes all the strategies which might have been used as a spectrum “from the low risk PPP/PFI, which is essentially a service delivery, through to construction management where almost all of the risk lies with the client”.

In his assessment of the choice of construction management Lord Fraser stated: “It verges on the embarrassing to conclude, as I do, that virtually none of the key questions about construction management were asked. Similarly none of the disadvantages of construction management appear to have been identified and evaluated.”

There’s no doubt it’s a striking building and an asset for Scotland and its law-makers. But perhaps next time a municipal building is planned for any part of the country you and your editorial team will consider the track record of PFI.

Lindsay Grist, director, PPP Forum

Scotland’s Jubilee Line

The Fraser Report’s conclusions are depressingly familiar: the selection of an inappropriate procurement process compounded by a lack of familiarity with the EU procurement rules by senior individuals; insufficient design clarity with no proper attempts to freeze designs when it might have helped; and the systemic preference of quality and time certainty over cost, which were exacerbated by massive acceleration payments to no discernable effect.

But, as your editorial suggests (17 September, page 3), this will be Scotland’s Jubilee Line extension – a great end result that will ultimately allow the failures of time and cost to be forgotten, if not forgiven.

David Savage, partner, construction, engineering and projects department, Hammonds

Come back, all is forgiven

The Holyrood verdict: dare I suggest that one conclusion that can be drawn from this (and parallel) sorry tales is that the former Property Services Agency was doing an almost impossible task for government not too badly?

Time to reinvent?

Ian Macpherson, via email