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Childish behaviour will not help our public image

Industry bleating that accompanied the award of the M25 mega project to former failed Tube upgrade owners is pointless adn irrelevant, argues NCE editor Antony Oliver
The long-awaited decision by the Highways Agency to award its privately funded M25 widening mega-contract is hugely welcome.
However, the industry bleating and sniping which has accompanied the naming of Connect Plus as provisional preferred bidder – in particular the involvement of consortium members Balfour Beatty and Atkins – is most certainly not so welcome.
What must our clients, private and public, think? At best it makes the industry look somewhat childish, at worst it serves to underline the kind of divisive in-fighting and petty politicking which has held back construction for decade after decade.
Frankly, for a profession that prides itself on logical, evidence-based decision making, the emotive, knee jerk reaction heard from across the community after the appointment has been all the more surprising.
Certainly there can be no doubt that the whole troubled Metronet versus London Underground debacle, was not good for the images of any of the parties involved.
And certainly the kind of headlines generated by the recent Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation into bidding practice continue to cast a shadow over a number of high profile industry names.
But to suggest that, as a result of these two business events, Balfour Beatty and Atkins, two of the biggest and most experienced names in UK civil engineering, can not now be considered capable or worthy of tackling a project of the scale of the M25 is clearly nonsense.
Like all the parties involved in the Metronet Tube upgrade contract – including government and Transport for London – both firms will have much to learn from the experience.
And like all the firms now under the OFT spotlight – and many of those yet to fall beneath its ever-expanding gaze – both Atkins and Balfour Beatty will without doubt be revisiting and, where necessary, tightening bidding procedures.
But while neither of these events can or should be brushed under any carpet, no one in the industry should be seriously hoping, let alone actively helping to ensure, that either of these firms continue to be hounded and judged by the braying mob.
Firstly, the Highways Agency insists that its procurement process has specifically delved into and challenged the Connect Plus consortium to satisfy itself that the team had learned from past mistakes.
And second, let us not write off the fact that both firms have outstanding staff and track records.
Construction most certainly has a major image problem that has to be turned around. But beating ourselves up publicly at every turn helps no one.

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