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Concern over lack of progress in construction industry

Construction has “fallen considerably short” of the progress hoped for 12 years ago when the ground breaking Rethinking Construction report was published, a leading engineer and promoter of best practice said last week.

Author of the recent Constructing Excellence report Never waste a good crisis Andrew Wolstenholme told an audience of 200 built environment professionals assembled at the ICE that best practice had to be improved.

Wolstenholme , who is managing director of Balfour Beatty Management, led the Constructing Excellence taskforce, which last year reviewed the progress of efforts to improve construction best practice since 1998 (NCE 15 October 2009).

Former BAA chief executive Sir John Egan’s 1998 report Rethinking Construction set out a plan for radical change within the construction industry in an attempt to reduce the delays, cost overruns and disputes that have plagued projects.

But last year’s review concluded that there has been a lack of progress since. “Since Sir John Egan’s report in 1998, there has been some progress, but nowhere near enough,” said Wolstenholme.

“Few of the Egan targets have been met in full, while most have fallen considerably short. Where improvement has been achieved, too often the commitment to Egan’s principles has been skindeep.”

“Few targets have been met in full, while most have fallen short. Too often commitment is skin- deep”

Andrew Wolstenholme, Balfour Beatty

He added that standards in construction were often secondary to other considerations. “In some sectors, such as housing, construction simply does not matter, because there is such limited understanding of how value can be created through the construction process.”

The Constructing Excellence review team suggested that the industry has been largely sheltered from reform during the boom period of the last decade.

Wolstenholme branded the current economic crisis as the perfect environment in which innovation can flourish - “a crisis we cannot afford to waste”. During the lecture he explained his vision for the industry which the review team said would push the industry to change.

“The vision is based on a more holistic understanding of the built environment - how value is created through the lifecycle of an asset, rather than simply one aspect of the whole equation we call construction, and understanding how the relatively small upfront costs of design can have huge consequences for future users, whether expressed as business, social or environmental outcomes,” said Wolstenholme.

He also stressed that government and other key stakeholders must play a part in creating this environment. Government must provide incentives for innovation, and stakeholders must maintain an education and training system that equips professionals with an understanding of how better integration delivers value, he said.

Readers' comments (6)

  • And I need a job !

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  • I agree totally with Andrew's comments. Civil engineering is the most unstable of all modern professions. The funding is unreliable. I would not encourage anybody suitably qualified and looking for a career to choose Civil Engineering. The whole industry lacks depth !! In Water Engineering especially the industry is looking to defer rather than do !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Most frustrated and out of work!!(like most Engineers in the North)
    Its a disgrace !!!

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  • The success of an engineering project is directly proportional to the willingness of the parties to the contract to make it work. The advent of the QS fraternity to civil engineering and the claims industry has mitigated against this and caused the cost overruns. The adversarial system of contract administration has to stop and the Consultant and the Contractor should recognise that they are a team attempting to give the Owner the product he wants on time, at the price he expected to pay and to the standard specified. Make the design fit for construction and design in the long term maintenance requirements. Robert Blyth Cape Town

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  • I also agree with Andrew, we did start making some progress with costs down and productivity up because many contractors had moved to manging cost rather than margin and working in collaboration with their Clients.
    The recession, pressure on budgets and it seems a total ignorance of why we went away from adversarial contracting has meant that jobs are again being let at targets with the contractor has no chance of meeting. We are reverting to feeding the lawyers and the claims merchants and in time wasting a great deal of public money.
    Robert Ibell

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  • My recollection is that the Egan Report did not have much to say on the actual construction methods to be adopted if quality of the product, environmental factors relating to cement use, site waste, greater ease to recycle materials and a host of other related factors are to be improved upon.
    In the post economic crisis environment in my view the profession should be continually up-dating all the elements of the whole construction picture. The educational sector should be a key participant. There are many barriers to be overcome. Let us continue to strive for progress.
    Peter Lowe.

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  • I am from Trinidad WI, and bases on the above comments suggest that the industry problems experiences in the UK are the same as Trinidad. My personal work has indicated that the major problems in the construction industry world is the lack of emphasis on the conceptualization processes in considering all the major cost and time drivers. I am of the view that if 20% of the project time is spent on planning and conceptualizing then expect 80% potential errors in time, cost and functionality of the project to the end user and operators of the facilities constructed. Conversel, 80% planning and conceptualizing may result with just about 20% errors. Consequently it is in our best interest as professionals not be guided by internal and external political demands but to continue to function with due dilligence and focus to the achievement of the objective in the most pragmatic and realistic schedules of cost and time at conception..

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