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Debate - This week we ask: Can partnering be trusted?

The government's Construction Client Panel, which advises central and local government on procurement, is set to roll out its own form of partnering agreement later this year.

The facts The Project Partnering Contract 2000 was launched by the Construction Industry Council last September as the first legally binding multi-party partnering document. Over 5,000 copies have been sold.

At least £1bn worth of construction work was being carried out under PPC2000 contracts at the end of April.

Partnering was the key tenet of Sir John Egan's 1998 report on the construction industry, Rethinking Construction.

According to Rethinking Construction 30% savings on construction costs were possible using partnering methods. Improvements in performance under partnering would increase contractors' margins from an average of 2% to 5% or more.

Yes - Nigel Curry, director of Helices Consulting and Movement for Innovation northwest cluster group leader.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a partner as: one who shares with another; one associated with others in business; an associate;

one of two persons who dance together; one of two persons playing on the same side in a game; a husband or a wife.

Consequently 'partnering' must be the actions of a partner.

The key words in this definition are: shares; associated in business; together; on the same side;

and husband or wife (a marriage).

A lawyer once said: 'True partnering cannot exist where there is a contract.' I am currently working for M4I with no contract - is this partnering?

I trust them and apparently I am trusted in return.

Partnering is a state of mind and a service. It is founded on trust and respect, and project teams need to focus on the how, not necessarily the what, when engaging in it.

Partnering is certainly not post-award team building as an anti-litigation strategy, as practised by many in the industry today.

Sir Michael Latham and Sir John Egan turned on a searchlight with their reports for government on the construction industry: Constructing the Team and Rethinking Construction.

The government has responded by asking the industry to look at its methods and to find a better way of operating.

Some within industry, for example contractor Bovis and client Marks & Spencer, were already co-operating - they worked together on delivering above-average levels of service and value for money. It was proven that both parties could be served well by working nonadversarially.

I submit that partnering can be trusted and can work in today's construction industry on the proviso that no party is, or feels it is, in danger of being abused commercially. Conflict tends to be self-generating - it is easy to fuel and hard to quell.

Conditions needed for partnering to grow and evolve are largely cultural. We need close and open relationships, mutual respect and trust in order to trust partnering.

No - Karen Gidwani, partner at solicitor Fenwick Elliott

Partnering has, until recently, been hailed as the philosopher's stone of the construction industry, calculated to transmute the base metal of low margins and claims into the pure gold of enduring and mutually profitable relationships. Unfortunately, the gold has failed to materialise. This is due to ignoring the legal basis of the project relationship.

A contract is essential to partnering and now we have the new PPC 2000 Standard Form of Contract for Project Partnering. But this does not necessarily give us the certainty required. For example, Clause 3.1.3 provides:

'The partnering team members shall work together and individually in a spirit of trust, fairness and mutual co-operation for the benefit of the project.'

What do 'fairness and cooperation' mean? They are expressed to be contractual obligations; they must accordingly have an impact on the parties' legal rights and liabilities.

But in fact they add little or nothing to the more familiar obligations of undertaking the project at a particular time and for a particular quality and price.

And Clause 5.1(ii) allows the client representative to 'call, organise attend and minute meetings of the core group members and the partnering team members whenever required or appropriate in accordance with the partnering document'.

Does that mean the client representative may call meetings when he requires, even when it is not appropriate? If there is enough money involved, that point alone could be a half day's preliminary issue in the Technology & Construction Court.

Clause 4.2 is also noteworthy with lengthy and ill-defined phraseology. Here, it seems that if it can be demonstrated that a party has in any way failed to implement the Rethinking Construction document, a course of action arises - a startling proposition given that that document is essentially conceptual rather than prescriptive.

If partnering is to work, then a set of binding legal obligations must be produced. If a party fails to adhere to them, he may be subject to legal proceedings.

Without them the gold so longed for by the industry will remain an alchemist's dream.

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