New government guidance will help implement Judith Hackitt’s recommendation of a more integrated, less adversarial approach to construction

Is collaborative procurement just a cuddly notion that fails to reflect life’s realities, or does it comprise the improved commercial practices that are essential to avoiding another Grenfell Tower disaster? Dame Judith Hackitt was in no doubt in her 2017 independent review, which found: “The way in which procurement is often managed can reduce the likelihood that a building will be safe […] Issues at this stage, for example inadequate specification, focus on low cost or adversarial contracting, can make it difficult (and most likely, more expensive) to produce a safe building.”

david mosey bw 2017

Preventing another Grenfell Tower disaster depends in part on a complete break from what Dame Judith Hackitt describes as a “race to the bottom” through which the pursuit of lowest prices can undermine safety and quality. King’s College London Centre of Construction Law had pressed the government to end these failings in housing procurement. As a result, I was appointed pro bono by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to lead development of the Collaborative Procurement Guidance for Design and Construction to Support Building Safety, working with Russell Poynter-Brown of On-Pole and a cross-industry procurement working group.

Relying on traditional procurement models and contracts can endanger building safety

Publication of the new guidance was among the housing safety measures announced by DLUHC secretary of state Michael Gove on 10 January, with endorsement by Dame Judith and support from industry bodies such as the CIOB, the RIBA, the RICS, Constructing Excellence and the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply. The guidance unpacks collaborative procurement into specific new practices and links them to questions that should be asked by the HSE Building Safety Regulator ahead of approvals in respect of planning, start on site and occupation.

> Also read this analysis of David Mosey’s latest report: How to escape the groundhog day of dodgy frameworks

The construction industry is wary of collaborative procurement if it means that a client expects everyone else to do the collaborating. Also, in the shadow of Grenfell, a client will not allow a “no blame” culture to exempt designers or contractors from their usual legal liabilities. However, simply relying on traditional procurement models and contracts can endanger building safety by:

  • Gambling on lowest price bids without joint review of detailed costs
  • Transferring risks down the supply chain rather than managing them
  • Preparing the ground for potential claims and disputes.

The guidance shows how collaborative procurement can avoid these pitfalls by preserving reasonable legal and commercial protections while using early planning, clear roles, full consultation and accurate information to reduce the potential for failures, errors, misunderstandings and disputes. It shows how collaborative procurement can lead to safer, better- quality outcomes and it includes housing sector case studies which demonstrate how collaborative systems have reduced risks and improved value on public sector and private sector construction projects.

The guidance breaks down collaborative procurement into four specific proposals to be adopted on any in-scope project

The guidance is intended to assist housing clients, designers, contractors and other supply chain members identified in the new Building Safety Bill as “dutyholders” during design and construction. It is also intended for adoption by the Building Safety Regulator when establishing how the industry moves to safer practices across the lifecycle of “in-scope” buildings. Rather than prescribing particular procurement models or contract forms, the guidance recognises that public and private sector clients adopt varying approaches, and it summarises how all public and private sector dutyholders can demonstrate the collaborative systems that improve safety and quality outcomes.

The guidance breaks down collaborative procurement into four specific proposals to be adopted on any in-scope project:

  • Teams should be selected on balanced evaluation criteria that include the safety of designs, works and products, so as to avoid a “race to the bottom”.
  • Contractors and suppliers should be appointed early on a conditional basis, so as to examine and agree their proposals for improved safety and quality ahead of start on site.
  • Teams should be integrated through collaborative contracts that ensure fair payment, manage risks jointly and take account of resident consultation.
  • The safe design, construction and operation of new buildings and refurbishments should be integrated and supported by a “golden thread” of digital information.

The guidance explains how these four central proposals are supported by leadership, incentives and collaborative management systems, and how improved safety can benefit from long-term alliance contracts that share value improvements and attract investment in modern methods of construction. It shows how collaborative procurement improves economic, social and environmental value, and it illustrates the team-building techniques and lessons learned from other industries that help to create and sustain a collaborative culture.

This guidance builds on the commitments set out in the government’s 2020 Construction Playbook. Its framework recommendations also reflect my independent review, Constructing the Gold Standard, as published and approved by government in December 2021. Adoption of the DLUHC guidance by all public and private sector developers and by all consultants and contractors is an urgent priority which depends not only on consultation but also on its proposals being used to frame the gateway questions asked by the Building Safety Regulator.

Professor David Mosey is director of the Centre of Construction Law at King’s College London