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How to make partnering work

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Everyone seems to think partnering is a good thing, yet no one knows how to go about it . . . A new guide comes to the rescue

The impact of the Latham report, numerous research papers and the interest generated by the construction press has brought the possibility of 'partnering' to the forefront of pre-development considerations. For architects, this often means a way of sharing the profits rather than taking a full fee, but for others the recipe can be much more complicated and a 'how to do it' guide is long overdue. I am sure that it was merely a coincidence that the day that a construction magazine decided to publish an editorial to the effect that partnering is all very well and good but nobody knew how to do it, Julian Critchlow should have brought out his book on that very subject*.

His book explores the theory in some depth but is primarily concerned with the central issue of how the process may be implemented. Critchlow says his intention is to introduce his audience to the concept, to assist in determining whether it is something worth considering and to give some indication of what might be involved. In this he has succeeded. He has provided the industry with a good working tool which will be of value to everyone who wishes to get the best out of a partnering arrangement.

The book begins with a brief description of the nature of partnering in its various guises. These are plainly objective descriptions which would, I think, have benefited from the author's observations on the respective merits of the different methods that he discusses. He deals separately with the concept of strategic partnering over a period of time in relation to a number of projects that may come to fruition in the future and contrasts this with partnering in relation to a specific project.

Perhaps the most useful chapter in the book is the section on 'partnering workshops'. This demonstrates the methodology adopted in partnering arrangement negotiations, mirroring the strategic partnering model.

The book is really about how partnering principles, the importance of a conciliatory attitude towards disputes, and a willingness to work together in a spirit of openness and co-operation. When these principles are applied there is no room for the antagonistic, confrontational, claims-orientated personnel in the construction team; they are an anathema to partnering. Partnering thus requires a fundamental change in attitude to that which has prevailed in the construction industry over the last 15 years or so.

Thus, the main thread running through the book is that partnering works provided the parties want it to. Critchlow uses the analogy of a successful marriage underpinned by a common sense of values and interests, and contrasts this with a relationship based on infatuation without such commonality and destined to end in acrimony and failure. But Critchlow is an experienced construction lawyer. He has a keen understanding of the difficulties to be faced in bringing together parties in a construction contract in an atmosphere which promotes co-operation rather than litigation.

With regard to style, when one considers that his intended target is an industry known usually for its love of complicated sentences only in construction contracts (which few read until it is too late), his choice of expression is often more complicated than need be. On the other hand, this is a short, informative paperback, running to no more than 114 pages, which it is quite possible to read from cover to cover within the space of a day. In bringing such a complicated subject to so brief a summary, he is to be congratulated.

Keith Pickavance is an architect and arbitrator

* Making Partnering Work In The Construction Industry, by Julian Critchlow. Chandos Publishing (Oxford). £55.00

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