Debate about the proposed changes to the Construction Act, or rather “changes” to the changes, took place in the House of Lords recently.

They will soon be law, unless someone does something about it. And they should!

The Act, in force since May 1998, is in my humble opinion the best thing since sliced bread (or battery-powered tools) as far as specialist subcontractors are concerned.

Subcontractors’ groups have consistently lobbied to close loopholes such as the one that allows an innocent party to pay all the costs in an adjudication. How on earth can that be fair, or even allowed to be a possibility?

The government’s proposed changes to the Act now seem to be a bit of a failure as far as ruling out that particular problem, and a bit of a nonsense in other areas too.

Hence the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group is proposing changes to the draft changes and, in the case of adjudication, have suggested that everyone should use the rules in the Scheme for Construction Contracts.

Why not? It works, it is fair and it is straightforward. These are probably three very good reasons why certain groups don’t want it.

Because of that and other poorly conceived drafting, the Act is about to become worse, not better, and that will just assist those who seek to abuse it.

Now, at this point the subcontractors have a choice.

  • Option 1: Pretend it isn’t happening

This is by far and away the easiest option, but one day that choice might just come back to bite them in the backside.

  • Option 2: Do something about it

Now I don’t know what exactly, but they could: ring their trade association; write to their MP; forward this letter to every other subcontractor they know, and ask them to forward it to every subcontractor they know; or start a petition against the blatant failure of the proposed changes.

At the end of the day it is up them, but if I were still a subcontractor, I would choose Option 2, because the proposed changes won’t improve the Act, primarily because they will be a major problem in the future for specialist subcontractors.

Barry J Ashmore, Ashmore Consulting