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Is IUK’s civils costs study leaving stones unturned?

In the final days before Christmas, Treasury body Infrastructure UK (IUK) announced its long-awaited findings of its study into why civils costs are so high.

It determined that the country could look forward to an achievable £3bn in savings on infrastructure costs each year for the next five years.

Easier said than done

Although the news came as a welcome gesture to many, others are sceptical about the impact of the report. Imperial College London professor of transport and infrastructure Stephen Glaister says he fears the report could be seen as taking a “glib” approach to such a vital issue.

“It’s important to get these costs down as far as possible,” he says. “But people have been trying to do this for a very long time - it’s not that easy to find large scale cost savings.”

IUK says it does not claim to have specifically identified where the £3bn will come from - it has not yet revealed its implementation plan, which it hopes to do by the spring. However, NCE understands that it has identified a list of new projects to trial the implementation - with the key being transport schemes - but it is not yet prepared to make the list public.

Conflict of interest

Further, there is disappointment in some quarters that the study fell down over its methodology.

Senior industry figures led the investigation and concerns have been raised that it is difficult to criticise one’s own practices.

In particular, one senior industry source close to IUK said that while it was a “fairly thorough” piece of work, “the recommendations were so predictable and tired”.

“The real problem is who is making money from the waste,” he says, adding that consultants and contractors were unlikely to begin enforcing major change because they too easily benefit from the current system. “It’s a fundamental problem with the baseline model,” he says. “An awful lot of waste is tied up in white collar costs and contingencies. The construction industry is in denial.”

While few would charge consultants and contractors with wilfully adding costs the question will remain whether they have the impetus and management skills to solve the problems of waste.

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