Survey shows that employers are frustrated by the rate of change – but don’t want to set the pace themselves.
Construction clients are frustrated at the slow pace of change in the industry, a report into the attitudes of the industry’s largest spending employers has revealed.

The respondents said that there was a gap between what they want and what the industry delivers.

The report, called Equal Partners, was commissioned by Business Vantage and based on detailed interviews with 52 of the UK’s largest construction clients, including British Land, Microsoft, BAA, John Lewis and Sainsbury.

The report overwhelmingly rejects Sir John Egan’s proposals that clients should drive industry improvement. Instead, it calls on the industry to show leadership.

David Jennings, managing director of Business Vantage, said: “It is fundamentally wrong that a customer should show leadership to a supplier.” He added: “It’s not good enough anymore just to produce good buildings. Clients no longer judge success on time, quality and cost – they’re givens. You have to provide business solutions.”

The report says clients have noticed some improvement in the industry’s performance since the 1998 Egan report and a widespread willingness to change.

But it criticises the lack of investment and innovation in the industry, particularly in IT.

It’s not good enough anymore just to produce good buildings

David Jennings, Business Vantage

The report notes that clients are frustrated at the shortage of highly qualified, experienced and motivated people, and in particular feel the industry is not doing enough to attract and retain talented individuals. It adds that a significant proportion of clients would be prepared to pay more for higher quality individuals.

Zara Lamont, chief executive of the Confederation of Construction Clients, said Egan’s view that clients should lead was a symptom of his frustration.

She said: “He feels the industry doesn’t have the intellect, ambition, and drive to push things forward. But most clients want a strong industry.”

Peter Rogers, chair of the strategic forum, said he was worried that the industry had read Egan’s report and expected the client to lead all the way through. Rogers wants the industry rather than clients to shoulder responsibility for improving performance.

A dissenting view was expressed by Tony Giddings, construction director of Argent, who contributed to the report. He said clients could not pour blame on the supply chain.

“I have some sympathy for the industry: an awful lot of clients want a lot from the industry without contributing very much,” he said.