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Action, not words

Comment

Certainly the public perception of civil engineers and civil engineering took a pasting this week - but it had little to do with any four letter words printed in NCE.

First there was publication of the PPP (Public Private Partnership) arbiter's damning annual report on London Underground infraco Metronet, which highlighted inefciency, underperformance and an expected overspend of £750M.

Then came yet more rumours and speculation over cost predictions for the London 2012 Olympics which, by all accounts, seem now to be pushing the £9bn mark from a £3bn starting point.

In both cases we see a very real prospect of UK taxpayers having to underwrite the inadequacies (perceived or otherwise) of the UK civil engineering profession.

We can debate at length the degree to which the headlines mask an otherwise highly professional success story, and what extent they are down to the failings of politicians rather than professional engineers.

Yet neither of these projects is what you might describe as an advert for the modern profession. After all, it should come as no surprise to anyone following the PPP rebuild of the London Underground network that after three years Metronet has delivered too little and spent too much.

It has struggled to meet its targets virtually since day one of the contract and has been rightly hounded by London Underground on an almost daily basis over engineering overruns, late delivery of station upgrades and poor quality work as LUL sought to enforce the virtually unenforceable London Transport commissioner Peter Hendy's outbursts over Metronet's performance was in many ways a result of his exasperation at having no real mechanism with which to put pressure on the company to deliver. The fact is that for all involved the PPP contract is far from ideal.

And it should come as no real surprise that the original bid cost for the London 2012 Olympics has been revealed as somewhat optimistic.

No one really expected to win the bid and even if they did there was not the resource or motivation to thoroughly scope and cost the needs and challenges - st to transform a derelict site into an Olympic village, then to create a focus for legacy regeneration.

And now contracts are being let, it is obvious that the level of detail and understanding of scope and risk will have risen.

In both of these cases there are no doubt good reasons and logical explanations for what has happened. But as far as the general public and potential recruits to the profession are concerned - none of these explanations matter beyond the headline.

For all our talk of industry reform we still appear to be somewhat battle-hardened towards cost and scope escalation with too many accepting it is a natural part of infrastructure delivery. This has to change.

Given that we desperately need to ensure that the brightest and best are recruited into the profession we need to start changing quickly.

oor public perception is holding the industry back. We all want civil engineering to be seen as a profession with the highest standards and we must work together to achieve it.

From client down through the whole supply chain we must promise less and deliver the public a lot more.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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