The main point:
It was encouraging to read Antony Oliver’s comment on the coming appointment of a chief construction advisor to represent the industry in the corridors of power (Comment last week). Who can argue this will take determination, knowledge and integrity.
Great stuff until you reach page 8 when suddenly it becomes clear that the quality of integrity has in recent years been of no importance to a number of individuals.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) fines of £130M indicate how serious the bid rigging activities have been but amazingly UK Contractors Group director Stephen Ratcliffe’s reaction was to bleat that they were unfair, not on the basis of innocence but actually suggesting companies shouldn’t be punished for corrupt practices.
Robust condemnation is the only proper response to this situation. As the leading professional body, the ICE should lead this effort to try and salvage what we can, looking into whether any member has brought the profession into disrepute and taking action if there is evidence.
Everyone in construction is tainted in the public eye by revelations like this and firm actions and words are needed. It is no use ignoring it nor giving a nod and a wink and saying “everyone was at it”. Failure to act will mean long term damage to the reputation of civil engineers.
- Frank Oldaker (M), Shrewsbury, email@example.com
With regard to the recent OFT fines, I have always felt that clients bear some of the blame. They force contractors to bid without asking if the contractor wants the job or if he has time to bid given that his project procurement team has finite resources.
Asking the contractor before putting his name on a select list invariably receives worthwhile bids, though I always used to warn that no bid or a duff bid would result in their name being removed in future as they had precluded another contractor from bidding. Professional behaviour works.
- David Noakes (F), firstname.lastname@example.org
I am appalled at the UK Contractors Group director Stephen Ratcliffe’s response to the OFT fines on contractors for bid rigging. His logic seems to be that to punish the offenders who have come to light is unfair.
What nonsense − by this logic no thief is ever to be punished because they cannot be caught. He says everyone knows that this was widespread. So that makes it all right then does it? To procure an artificially high bid is theft − simple as that.
- Richard Garry, (M), Garry Associates, 2 The Close, London, N14 6DN
I am in despair with last week’s NCE. Firstly, the NCE editor says we need to promote our professional interests better. I’ve been hearing this for 50 years.
Secondly, a member writes who does not even consider himself a professional (Letters, last week). Sorry, but why not resign?
Thirdly, We have the UK Contractors Group director Stephen Ratcliffe saying, it is “unfair” to single out firms who had fines imposed for the practice of bid rigging. Why unfair? They acted illegally.
As Ratcliffe states “everybody knows….that cover pricing was widespread in the industry”. Yes, and everybody in the industry knows it led to inflated project costs. An apology would be in order, not a whinge.
Lastly, I have never seen such an ugly structure as the new Brussels HQ for Council of Europe (News last week) for which the contracts are apparently valued at £285M, so goodness knows what the final cost will be.
Even at £285M the UK will contribute about £40M. That will be £40M too much.
- Denis L Geeson (M), email@example.com
Hidden treasure or well hidden?
I keep looking at the image of the proposed Brussels HQ for Council of Europe in last week’s NCE because I cannot believe what I am seeing. Does it represent a pear or a hand grenade or a bloated MEP?
The cost of building and maintaining such a shape would be horrendous but as it has not been possible to audit the Council of Europe finances for many years nobody bothers about cost, even in this new age of restraint.
I then see that the building is to be housed behind a square facade. Is this because the architect wants to hide it?
- Dr. Colin Anderson (M), firstname.lastname@example.org
Get the figures
Further to his letter last week, Bruce Latimer might be interested to know that I had contacted the Institution just after Alan Milburn’s report on Fair Access to the Professions was published. I was seeking more information to see where this Institution stands vis-a-vis the factors commented on in the report.
The Institution replied that they did attend the stakeholder event along with representatives from ECuk, Royal Academy of Engineering, Science Council and other professional engineering institutions, but that data and statistics had not been disaggregated for civil engineering.
Specific data about entrants to the Institution has not been collected and it was felt that the questions which would need to be asked would be seen as intrusive.
Along with Latimer, I feel that it is important that the Institution should know the proportions of those coming from the different socioeconomic levels in society. What proportion, for example, of new entrants come from which social group and how does this compare with other professions, both in construction and beyond.
I confess here to a personal interest derived from my own background. It seems to me that many of my generation from the early sixties were grammar school boys and that provided the step that was needed to move from the working class into a profession. That step has more or less gone; what, if anything, has replaced it? Only the figures can tell us.
- Rodney Bray (M), email@example.com
Improve what we’ve got
I think the proposal for new high speed rail lines is ill-conceived as your article demonstrates (NCE 17 September).
We are such a small island and every city wants to be the target but we aren’t far enough apart. In any case, we haven’t enough land to spare to turn it into railways. Oh and by the way, we can’t afford it.
I live in Preston. Last month I went to London for a few days. The journey time was a little under 2½ hours. And the service was excellent. Why would anyone think that unacceptable?
As for future provision, I would point to the experience of going from Preston to Paris. Alight at Euston, walk along Euston Road to St Pancras and catch the Eurostar. Wow! No not the speed − the capacity. There must be about 2,000 people on a Eurostar and maybe 700 on a Pendolino.
We don’t need new lines, just make better use of the existing. I know the platforms aren’t long enough. Try a bit harder.
- Dave Smith, 69, Gleneagles Drive, Fulwood, Preston, PR2 7EU, UK
We’ve got to speed things up
For speed of construction, a high speed railway needs to connect with the existing system and use existing city-centre stations. A line between London and the West Midlands is urgently needed on capacity grounds − Network Rail having widened the Trent Valley line − but there is no immediate problem thereon.
A line from London might have a station in the outer suburbs − Ruislip providing connections with several underground lines. Overall journey times are more important than speeding up the trunk haul, so parkway stations won’t benefit many people compared with city centre ones.
Between Rugby and Coventry the line would split into three tails, one to Birmingham, one to Nuneaton and Trent Valley and one to Leicester. This warrants two or three trains an hour variously to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. They could continue to Leeds, but London-Leeds could be speeded up by fitting cab signalling on the East Coast Main Line, allowing speeds of 140mph to be allowed.
North of a line between Blackpool and Hull, there are only four major centres of population, so justifying extension becomes more difficult. Congested or winding lengths of main line should have a high speed deviation.
Resources are always going to be limited, so we need to get away from wish lists and concentrate on priorities.
- David HT Smith, The Thursfield Smith Consultancy, 25 Grange Rd. Shrewsbury SY3 9DG
First, ask the question
I would like to challenge the statement in the Special Report on Managed Motorways (NCE last week) that there is “public reluctance to build more roads or even widen them” and hence we are left with ATM as the only solution, presumably.
I would like to see the results of polling a 1,000 people in Salisbury asking if they would like a bypass, or 1,000 people in Milton Keynes if they would prefer the M1 to Luton to be widened or even 1,000 people and industrialists in Manchester and Sheffield if they would like a decent road connecting these two major centres of population and industry.
I know what the politicians would say to such polls: “You will get the wrong answers”!
- John Franklin (F), 11 The Ridings, East Horsley, Surrey KT24 5BN
The articles in last week’s NCE should have dispelled the quaint notions that some readers have held concerning hard shoulder running.
I would however, as a regular user of the M42 Pilot Scheme like to make three points:
- Users dislike changes where the speed goes up then down then up again. It’s better to keep a longer section at a lower consistent speed than to keep changing it
- The speed enforcement system does not work as well as it should. Most of the regulars have worked out where the gantry-mounted cameras are and what the leeway is. This would be solved if average speed measurement were used instead.
- Make sure your next car has cruise control − it’s essential for driving in ATM sections.
- Peter Styles, Kingsbury, B78 2DX
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 NW1 7EJ