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Letter to the Editor

The letter in full:

With reference to the article 'Back to the Future' in the 23 September edition of NCE we feel obliged to comment as the subject covered is linked to issues very close to the heart of the 'impetus for radical change' within the industry.

The comment made by David Hodgkinson that the new 7th Edition of the ICE Conditions of Contract 'fully supports and promotes the benefits of team working and current (progressive) procurement initiatives' is not evidenced by its contents. If one excludes the revisions required to comply with new legislation, there are really only two or three substantive amendments (to the 6th Edition) which could potentially reduce conflict between the contracted parties, viz (a) inclusion of employer default within clause 44 and (b) the option of provision of a quotation prior to commencement of 'variation works' in clause 52. A number of other changes have tipped the balance further away from the contractor which could well make their lives more difficult and in so doing potentially increase conflict eg. clauses 4(2), 11, 41(1).

More importantly, the general ethos used within the ICE Conditions of Contract, to place obligations upon the contractor and the engineer respectively, will always be a barrier to progressive working relationships. Moreover there are very few initiatives embodied to develop shared objectives and facilitate closer relationships.

David also stated that 'conflicts within our industry are caused by personalities, not conditions of contract'. We would agree that personalities and mind-sets are more critical to the change process: however it is extremely naive to state that the form of contract does not influence the resultant level of conflict on a project. It is our view that the nature of the form of contract should be complimentary with and fully support the type of working relationship that parties wish to enter into. This will remove the easy option of 'resorting to the contract' when relationships start to be stretched.

We now turn to Mike Casebourne's statement that 'we support all engineers and their clients in making the choices most appropriate to their circumstances'. This statement brings to mind a very fundamental issue - is the objective of the ICE to provide services to industry because there is currently a demand for them or is it the objective of the ICE to be progressive and set trends for others to follow?

We believe that one cannot ride two horses at the same time. We would imagine that a large number of clients that still use the ICE 5th and 6th contract forms do so in ignorance of the benefits that can come to them of more progressive forms and the concepts embodied within Rethinking construction.In time a large number of these clients (and client advisers) will reform but there will always be some dinosaurs. Wouldn't it be a very clear, powerful message of the status of the ICE if they totally withdrew this obsolete contract form?

Ian Huntington (M)

Executive director M4i

Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Eland House

Bressenden Place

London SW1E 5DU

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