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Matching Egan to real life


Two of the most pleasurable days of my professional year are those spent visiting shortlisted schemes as a judge for the British Construction Industry Awards. Why? Partly because it is always a pleasure to visit new buildings (or refurbishments). Partly because it includes civil engineering projects which I would not normally see. But chiefly because the judging panel has the opportunity to quiz representatives of the client, designers and construction teams on why the job (presumably) went well, what they would have done differently, and what were the particular problems. The teams are generally refreshingly frank, and having conducted a day of visits, planned with military precision, an exhausting day is invariably exhilarating.

The judging took place this year against the background of the Egan report. On the whole, Egan's propositions seem to fit well with the good teamwork we experienced. If the culture of co-operation exists on a project from the start, it will tend to go well - unless and until there is some substantial loss of faith in one member of the team by another. Once lawyers are introduced, the kiss of death is at hand.

There are real problems in relation to the Egan approach, however. An underlying (unstated) logic to his report is provision of all services by a single supplier, who can then establish long-term relationships with client bodies. In other words, a Japanese model. But in the uk most clients are not professional procurers of buildings, and most consultants and contractors are not industrial giants, any more than their clients are. Hence the suggestion from the Construction Industry Council chairman, Robin Nicholson, that different professionals working in small firms should consider combining to give greater client satisfaction. But if co-operation is to replace competition as the industry's underlying philosophy, it will require much more sophisticated measures of long-term value. Otherwise it's pfi and d&b all the way, with buildings as made-for-tv movies rather than the real thing.

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