A shortage of QSs is holding up the upgrade of the Ministry of Defence's £18bn estate. The chairman of Rider Levett Bucknall says a smarter deployment of QS resource could ease the problem

The report blaming delays on MoD projects on a 40% shortage of QS’s is ironic to me as someone who has striven to get QSs into the mainstream projects.

But the issue is real and we the QS profession must be proactive in finding solutions.

But How?

The problem has been exacerbated by competition from a very buoyant private sector. This could change over the next few months – but I doubt it.

It is ironic that we at Rider Levett Bucknall UK know the MoD to be a very enlightened procurer of projects. Particularly following our experience on the Andover North Prime Contract. This project was based upon full collaboration and embodied most of the Best Practice issues that we all know about (pain/gain share: open book: project bank accounts, project insurance) with really successful outcome.

Clearly best practice has not reached all operational and regional projects. I am not critical of this - God knows I know how difficult it is to get new ideas embedded.

The report is a symptom of the 'Effect'. The 'Cause' is too many years of “always doing what we’ve always done… and always getting what we always got”. It is another example that should make us openly adopt the preaching’s of industry leaders such as Latham and Egan.

It is also a cry for help from very respected and valued customer of the industry.

It is up to us as QSs to take a lead on the “solution” having been a part of the “problem”.

The Way Forward

QS’s have great influence on procurement. Everyone knows that the “gene pool of QS’s” is quite shallow and shortages will be with us for sometime.

We must take a lead mastering our own and the industry’s destiny. We continue to change our stereotype from “risk averse; glass half-empty historians”; to fulfilling our potential as risk positive; glass half full; fortune tellers/futurologists and thus punch more than our weight.

I believe that the shortages outlined in the report could be caused by wrapping up too much QS resource in the detail not deploying our resources in a smarter manner. We must be prepared to be bold and set standards.

I have no statistics but here are my pointers to the way forward. The market for construction procurement breaks broadly into three – Leading Edge; Mainstream Core; and Traditional. Taking each:

  • Leading Edge
  • Collaborative Best Practice procurement – (say 10 % of the current market and growing slowly). Enlightened clients (spearheaded by central and local government) are now proving real long-term cost and value benefits from Best Practice Collaboration. The QS is ideally placed to provide detailed elemental benchmarking to prove even to the greatest sceptic that it works. The QS can identify and help remove the blockers to Collaboration. (Eg OJC guide to best fair Payment).
  • Mainstream Core
  • Mainly two stage design and build procurement (say 55–65% of the market). The effectiveness of two stage D&B is severely strangled by first stage being a “quick and dirty” flinging together with too little collaboration. When the collaborative efforts start in stage two, expectations are fixed and pressure is on. (I bet that the industry is currently fighting over £5bn of “ready to go” contracts at this second stage). The resource lock up of the second stage is particularly intensive on QSs. Please let's get better first stage collaboration and set some best practice benchmarks for time lock up and cost variance at second stage – we know it makes sense to work smarter in this huge sector of our industry.
  • Traditional
  • Procurement by Bill of Quantities (BQs) (say 10-20% of market). I am seeing the BQs as the “new black”. There has to be a significant place in the market for this procurement method providing QSs are disciplined enough not to complete BQ’s until design development has reached an agreed Best Practice stage.

The underlying theme of the above is that QSs can and do provide clients and industry colleagues robust benchmarking tools. The UK’s built infrastructure is very stretched (has anyone recently entered the UK by road, rail or air – am I the only one that feels it’s a bit 'third world'?).

Improved productivity from our industry is vital for addressing the demands over the next 10/20 years on the built infrastructure.

The MoD report is a cry from a valued customer for positive solutions.

It is focused on QS shortages and therefore QSs must lead the delivery of the solution. We believe that concentrated effort by QS leaders (championed by the RICS) will provide a sensible long term solution.