At the time of writing, the biggest issue in the media is MPs’ expenses and the lack of trust felt by the public. Trust is hard to build but easy to lose. For the many MPs for whom there are no issues or ambiguities over their claims, it must be doubly frustrating
In the construction industry, trust is at the heart of the relationship between contractor and client. There is always the temptation to push the boundaries, perhaps by taking on a job a bit bigger than normal, or a job with an additional or technical aspect. How far is too far is a difficult question to answer. If we get away with it, then there is no problem. But if it goes wrong, the relationship can fall apart very quickly.
And the longer a dispute goes on, the more difficult it becomes. At a corporate level, the legal eagles take over and almost sanitise the process until it resembles more a case of jousting – gladiatorial combat with the lawyers as proxies for the main combatants.
At a domestic level, even more trust is placed in the contractor than at corporate level. The giving of keys, the belief that the contractor knows what they are doing and the vulnerability the client often goes to create a greater sense of disappointment when things go wrong.
The sense of trust can evaporate in an instant. In practice it becomes hard, if not impossible, to remedy. If there is a problem, it is normal or even contractual for the contractor to rectify it. But for the domestic client, having lost faith in the contractor, this becomes difficult not withstanding the problem in agreeing with the contractor the problem in the first place. The client effectively repudiates the contract.
Trade associations may or may not help. The deal with many customer care schemes is that a process has to be followed. But the client wants a solution now, not to follow a time-consuming process. Even when other contractors become involved to sort things out, the clients’ expectations do not always match what can be done in practice.
This then sets up an impasse where all processes have been followed correctly but despite best efforts no resolution can be implemented. The dispute becomes the be all and end all for client. They have become a victim of the system and they need to stay a victim to prove that the system is unfair.
Fortunately these types of disputes happen infrequently, but when they do, they become excessively destructive and very costly. All sense of proportion can be lost and this can adversely affect the health of client, contractor and anyone else that gets sucked into the dispute.
The moral in all of this is that getting the business is all very well, but the most important thing for the contractor to manage has to be trust.
Chris Blythe is chief executive of the CIOB.