Glen Sabin - says the industry needs to stop discussing partnering and start including manufacturers
Three years on from Rethinking Construction, the industry is still working hard to deliver better value – but is there too much talk and not enough action? Although the industry is certainly moving in the right direction, Sir John Egan's vision is not reaching the whole supply chain. Indeed, in some quarters, there is growing disillusionment with the idea of effective supply-chain management. Overcoming this perception is one of the greatest challenges facing UK construction.

Co-operation across project teams is recognised as the route to better practice. Certainly, many large contractors have recognised its potential or have been driven to do so by their clients. However, there is a danger that high-profile partnering successes have overshadowed the marginalisation of subcontractors, designers and suppliers, and the fact that most of the industry continues to operate in the traditional manner.

True partnering occurs only when the entire team is involved from the outset of a project. Indeed, Egan's holy grail of a more intimately connected supply chain will not be achieved until each link in the value chain is treated as an equal.

Manufacturers and product suppliers play a fundamental role in the supply chain and yet there is still too much emphasis on client and contractor relationships. For example, neither NHS Estates' Procure 21 nor the Ministry of Defence's prime contracting initiative includes the manufacturer in the procurement of best value. This is immensely frustrating for manufacturers as they are willing and able to deliver support at the design and specification stage of a project. Unfortunately, when it reaches contractor level, commercial pressures result in compromise and decisions based on price rather than best value. This can impair the quality of the finished product. And hawking business around suppliers in a repeat tendering process serves only to increase the cost of procurement for all the parties involved.

If the industry shifts this emphasis to include suppliers from the start of a project, immediate value can be achieved and the long-term benefits for the industry would be far-reaching.

If involved early, manufacturers can drive innovation by developing new manufacturing techniques and products to fit individual schemes, improving availability and product quality and planning more effectively.

Designers requiring bespoke product solutions can be supported more effectively. It also builds in a phase to advise on construction details and delivery programming.

Egan’s holy grail of a more intimately connected supply chain will not be achieved until each link is treated as an equal

It's also important to recognise that, as part of the drive towards delivering value, manufacturers are sometimes obliged to reduce their revenue by recommending a change to product specifications.

Profit sometimes gets in the way of best practice and, while we all want to make money, it is important that the client receives the most effective value-for-money solution.

If the industry is going to see a positive change, manufacturers and suppliers need to be proactive and challenge clients and contractors to deliver better value.

For too long now, too many manufacturers have sat back and reacted to change. It's easy to see why. Calling for change might alienate key market sectors and antagonise clients and designers. Indeed, suppliers that occupy a dominant position in the market will not want to rock the boat if they are making significant revenue. However, supply-chain management is not a "them and us" conspiracy. It is a realistic, constructive solution to delivering real value to our industry and the construction process. If it is to come to fruition, manufacturers must be prepared to assert themselves as key players in the whole process.

They might be at the far end of the chain, but they cannot afford to let change be dictated to them. Manufacturers must take a role in bringing about change; it is vital that suppliers have a real voice in the industry.