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Letters: Is partnering the best way forward for future projects?

The main point:

Steve Morgan, BAA capital programmes director

Steve Morgan, BAA capital programmes director

With reference to the article on the death knell of partnering (NCE 23-30 July), as a retired ex-resident engineer of many years’ experience in underground works, it appears that clients have finally recognised that they have been taken for a ride for the past 12 years.

The decision by contractors to turn down design and construct contracts on Crossrail was a clear indication that they were no longer prepared to accept competitive tendering. HS1 partnership contracts, which were virtually cost plus to meet programme, were very profitable.

I hope clients will now go one step further and reappoint the engineer to oversee contracts rather than continue with the present project managers who take no responsibility for the construction of the works, but simply act as a distributive centre for the issue of drawings, revisions, queries, programmes and cost claims.

Partnering was the brainchild of the quantity surveyor who wished to take over the financial responsibility of the contract but was not prepared to take over the responsibility for the works.

  • GR Heath, 7 Chenies Avenue, Little Chalfont, Amersham HP6 6PR

I read with interest the interview with Steve Morgan − “Keeping them keen” (NCE 23 July) − and felt it was most appropriate that the article “Pitched battle” about Multiplex and Mott MacDonald should appear in the same edition.

The latter is a classic case of a contract where a lack of collaboration has led to a potentially very expensive court case and settlement.

I was not aware that Sir John Egan advocated not having contracts as Steve Morgan suggests and indeed the NEC forms of contract were devised to enable us to have formal partnerships contained within them while maintaining a client/contractor relationship.

While we must move forward and meet financial emphasis changes such as the current recession will inevitably bring, history should tell us that the way forward is not to return to the bad old days of the 1980s when the first person on the site was always the claims surveyor. May collaboration long prevail!

  • Chris Bowley (M), tunnel safety engineer, Le Crossing Company, South Orbital Way, Dartford DA1 5PR

Has BAA capital projects director Steve Morgan (NCE 23-30 July) only just realised that competitive tendering will be seen by the regulators as proving value for money?

Competitive tendering has always been sufficiently transparent to ensure that work is fairly distributed on a value-for-money basis.

Partnering, on the other hand, has replaced transparency with opacity. It has removed the incentive for the parties to offer accurately priced work without a hint of collusion for commercial, political or other advantage.

I believe history will look back at the last decade or so as an unsatisfactory episode, concluded by worldwide banking failures, when major projects were procured behind closed doors for unclear outturns within equally vague and flexible budgets.

Competitive tendering is not without its difficulties and there are arguments for accepting mid range tenders, but at least it is crisp, clean and transparent.

The integrity of our profession can only benefit from a return to conventional and open tendering for projects not limited, in Steve Morgan’s words, to over £25M but for the full range of projects from a few thousand to thousands of millions of pounds.

It is time that beauty contests, for the selection of partners, was at last consigned to the “politically incorrect” waste bin.

  • Alan Harris (M), 64 Pickhurst Lane, Hayes, Bromley, Kent BR2 7JF


Foryd Harbour bridge picture clarification

Foryd Harbour bridge

Foryd Harbour bridge

With regard to your short news item (NCE 23-30 July) on the proposed Foryd Harbour Bridge in Rhyl, please note the image you featured is not of the winning entry by Dawnus Construction and Gifford, but of the competing design prepared by Kier Construction with Mott MacDonald.

  • Brian Duguid (M), associate, Mott MacDonald, Spring Bank House, 33 Stamford Street, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 1ES

Editor’s note: Our apologies for the mix up. The winning Dawnus/Gifford design is shown here (above).


It’s time to tackle poor pay in sector

When I graduated approximately 10 years ago my salary was around £17,000. With a small student debt, mainly due to a yearly government grant and no tuition fees, I was able to pay rent on a flat and cover the rest of my bills fairly comfortably.

It saddens me to learn that salaries have apparently increased by such a small margin, considering inflation and the additional debt burden that students now face. It is also disappointing that there are engineers who consider such a derisory sum acceptable.

We are told by successive ICE presidents and NCE editorials that we are the wealth creators of society − which is true − so why is our profession still regarded as low to middle band salary earners with little in regard to status?

The problem of pay and status has been an ongoing problem throughout the industry for far too long and despite promises by successive ICE presidents to address them, little seems to have been done.

If the ICE genuinely believes that past salary indicators are correct why not recommend a minimum graduate starting salary, say £25,000, and actively encourage company directors to follow them?

This may not be an appropriate time to introduce a minimum wage, but radical changes are required within the engineering sectors. This will help ensure Britain retains an acceptable level of homegrown talent.

  • Paul Mitchley, 46 Braemar Drive, Highcliffe, Dorset BH23 5NS

Pay does not match our peers

I cannot allow the points raised by Robert Lyle (NCE 23-30 July) to pass without a rebuttal. With the average graduate debt in the region of £15,000 and anything up to £30,000 I would think salaries are of critical importance when trying to attract young people into the profession.

It is only from a perspective within our industry that a salary of £19,000 can be considered large. According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters the top 10.3% of graduate salaries in 2008 were above £36,001. The majority of graduate salaries, 57.7%, are in the range of £22,001 to £27,000. By comparison to our peers, £19,000 is not a large salary.

For example, the minimum starting salary of a teacher is £20,627 (£25,000 in inner London) with a potential £5,000 “golden hello” if you teach science or maths. Considering the job security and long holidays in comparison with engineering, the choice looks a no brainer.

  • David Carmichael,

The benefits of vibro compaction

The geotechnical article, “Inner strength” (NCE 23-30 July), reminded me of a building project in which I was involved at Blyth, Northumberland, on a restored coal mining site some 30 years ago.

The ground investigation reported exceptionally high pH values such that the Cement and Concrete Association recommended timber piles to avoid the use of any cement.

Further investigations pointed to vibro compaction and a contract for such was placed with a Hull contractor. It was understood that this was the first time this method had been employed.

The stone for the columns had to be such as to be unaffected by the high pH value of the ground.

There appear to be few reports of vibro compaction having been used in contracts which can be recommended where ground and site conditions are suitable.

  • JW Hall (M),

Passengers lost at new King’s Cross

Your article (NCE 9 July) about the planned major changes at King’s Cross worries me. You quoted Ian Fry as stating that passengers will be forced to find new ways of navigating their way around the station, but that they will find the new station an enjoyable experience so they will stay longer.

That rings alarm bells. Surely a station is primarily a place to catch a train with the minimum of bother? Enjoying the ambience, eating or doing a bit of shopping on the concourse are surely secondary?

As a user of the station on and off for half a century I am aware that passengers queue on the present concourse and very often there is a mad rush to the platform when the train is announced shortly before departure. It is unlikely that this will change under the new arrangements.

The route from the new concourse to the platform will be far less convenient than at present. The footbridge will have to be a great deal wider than indicated or it will share the inadequacies all too obvious at Birmingham New Street.

At least at New Street there are up and down escalators on both sides, while at King’s Cross one side only has the limited capacity of a lift.

However nice the new station looks, accommodating passenger movements is paramount and unless they are adequately provided for the project will have failed. Ian Fry’s concept of forcing passengers to find new ways of moving through the station suggests that this fundamental aspect has not been accorded sufficient weight.

  • Keith Noble, The Dene, Triangle, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire HX6 3EA

Road pricing plan needs attention

In response to the article on road pricing (NCE 9-16 July) I can’t help but think that there are a number of other questions that need to be asked.

It is a matter of road users paying for what they use. It is generally accepted that using the telephone or travelling by train costs more at peak times − why should travelling by road be any different?

The system currently being trialled in The Netherlands is not aimed at raising funds. In fact the cost effect will be neutral for the average road user driving about 16,000km/year. This principle must be the key to gaining public acceptance.

It is also worth noting that the road pricing scheme in The Netherlands will see the abolition of fixed taxes on car ownership. Is the UK government proposing the same?

I think we also need to look beyond the short-term out-of-pocket cost to the potential long-term savings and environmental benefits that a pay-per-km system may deliver. The technology is already available, why not have a trial in the UK?

  • Ernst Malipaard, director of transportation, Grontmij, Grove House, Mansion

Your views & opinion

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ


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