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Debate: Partnering

Partnering has been held up as the cure for construction's habit of running over budget and programme. But are people only paying lip service to the partnering principles of teamwork. This week we ask: Has partnering achieved the promised benefits to date?


Hadyn Davies, route manager, Union Railways.

Partnering is producing huge benefits for all the parties involved.

Civil engineering and particularly major civil engineering projects are relatively new to the partnering concept but where the system has been used I have never heard a voice raised against it. The building sector, where partnering is more developed, is widely reporting as much as 30% cost savings and 40% reductions in programme times from partnered projects. Everyone is sharing in the bonuses and benefits that such a performance deserves.

Evidence that the same dramatic results can be achieved by using partnering on major infrastrucure schemes is there to see. Teamwork was the key to the success of the London Ring Main. Partnering between Amec and Anglian Water and their client on the bored Clacton tunnel for the £250M Project Clearwater produced a record- breaking performance and a 100% safety record. The results of the partnering so pleased local community groups with the speed of work and limited disruption that they are lobbying for all construction work in the area to be partnered. Most spectacularly, partnering turned disaster on the Heathrow Express tunnels into a triumph of teamwork and good management.

Union Railways is so convinced of the benefits that we are promoting the concept on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link because we think it is the only way to get the project built to deadline and within cost. We are using the New Engineering Contract with a Target Cost Option C because the contract lends itself to partnering and all parties will gain financially if the work is completed below budget and ahead of programme.

Partnering is not the soft option though. It requires commitment, honesty and rigorous self certification. Performance bonds are required because the banks that finance major schemes want them. The benefit of working in a partnered team is that they should never be called in.


Bob Ibell, overseas director, Taylor Woodrow Construction

I believe strongly in partnering and my concern is that we are not yet establishing across our industry the culture and relationships that will enable the benefits to be realised.

When we introduced partnering many of us believed (hoped), perhaps naively, that a new age had dawned but without wishing to denigrate the good results that have been achieved in some projects, the realisation of the benefits is slow and patchy.

For me the key area is the way our relationships are developing and whether there is evidence of the understanding, courage and openness that partnering relationships require.

Have we yet got to the stage where there is real mutual understanding of the drivers of each of the stakeholders - client, engineer/project manager, contractor and often these days the bankers?

Is there still a belief that performance bonds, parent company guarantees and penalties can achieve all?

Have we gained the courage that it takes to enter into these relationships, despite our legal departments' comments?

Have we reached the stage where the contractor completely opens his books, where there is only one set of figures which everyone uses? Are there meetings on a project where some parties are not welcome? Do we have only one set of files on a project?

The Association of Consulting Engineers Client Guide, 2000 edition, suggests that in response to its survey, construction professionals and clients are united in their views that partnering breeds complacency, leads to a loss of competitiveness and control but most importantly increases costs.

So we do not yet accept the basic precepts that partnering should reduce cost and that the traditional way of doing things often involves waste. Until we have overcome these obstacles we will not achieve the enormous benefits offered by working together.

The facts

Partnering is a management technique which uses teamwork, shared problem solving and incentives to deliver projects within budget and programme.

It has been used in the retail trade, motor industry and offshore industry successfully for many years and has been picked up by construction in the last six years.

Sir Michael Latham's review of the UK construction industry recommended adoption of the technique to rid construction of its adversarial culture and predicted 30% savings in cost and time.

Latham's work was picked up by Sir John Egan's Rethinking construction report in July 1998. The brief was to map how construction could change its culture and become more efficient.

Government has committed itself to adopting partnering techniques via prime contracting and best value.

Movement for Innovation was created in November 1998 to co-ordinate demonstration projects which would publicly trial ideas for change.

The Government's Clients Charter, due out in July, aims to have clients responsible for 50% of UK construction spending committed to the ideals set out in the Egan report.

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