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Letters to the editor

The Editor welcomes letters at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QX

fax: (0171) 505 6667 e-mail: nceedit@construct.emap.co.uk

and reserves the right to condense.

Partnering put in its place

I recently attended the one day conference on 'Partnering in practice' at the Institution of Civil Engineers. I am afraid to say I bunked off before the end, not only because I had a hideous sore throat which prevented me from making this protest verbally, but because I was getting increasingly frustrated.

The conference was directed at the construction/civil engineering/process contracting industry. I am not aware, but would be keen to find out, what proportion of main contracts let within this industry fall into the category of smaller contracts, say under £1M. I would imagine a huge proportion of individual effort and resources goes into this sector, but for this market partnering will do little.

The lofty proponents of this hitherto black art, preached that 'the contract stays in the drawer but it is rarely needed'. They disappear for cosy but expensive weekends together wearing woolly jumpers and brogues and appear on site the following Monday, of one mind, invigorated and ready to spread the gospel. When you have just landed a £26M road deal or the right to execute almost the entire capital programme for a water plc, I shouldn't think the chief executive is going to sniff at an expenses claim including a few hundred pints of real ale and a facilitator's fee.

Such an exercise for, say, a £250,000 sewage works refurbishment would need a major cost benefit analysis before you could even book the hotel and pack your corduroys.

We don't want the contract to be 'left in the drawer'. That's where the socks, knickers and dirty laundry is kept. What we want is engineers' representatives who do certify within 14 days, employers who pay within 21 and contractors who do not store up a multitude of claims until the day before the grand opening. This is where many of the problems facing the industry originate.

The industry, and especially subcontractors, want non-adversarial contracting and I challenge those who say the standard forms are designed for the opposite. The standard forms are there, like all contracts, to reflect the intention of the parties and to some measure to provide guidance as to how to behave. Partnering has provided, almost by spin-off, most of the answers to non-confrontational contracting, principally honesty and teamwork. For many, these are the values we wish to build into contracts that are not set into partnering framework, and are, as one of the speakers put it, 'the real beef'.

Partnering is of course a brilliant idea and has obviously been superbly executed by a few and moderately badly by a few more. However its use, as one of the speakers said, is limited, and (although some tried to indicate otherwise) restricted chiefly to the client-main contractor relationship.

I suggest next time some of the 'big boys' go out to play football together on a partnering workshop weekend they spare a thought for the little brothers they have left at home with only the 6th Edition for solace and the QS at the door.

Nick Melling (M), Daytone, Batts Bridge Road, Maresfield, East Sussex TN22 2HJ.

Points of consensus

I found that I could agree with more of Sir John Egan's comments (NCE 11 June) than I expected to. Certainly his comments about the industry's commitment to people and the dedication to quality required made a lot of sense.

Less clear to me were the comments about a lack of customer focus. In the car industry, for example, the manufacturer will say at the end of the brochure 'We reserve the right to alter specifications at any time' and the customer must choose from a limited list of makes and models. This is true of all other industries. One of the unique features of the construction industry is that the client is given the right to make any alteration at any time. As a customer, I cannot have an Audi body with Mercedes interior, BMW suspension and Jaguar engine.

This is not an attack on anybody. Rather I am concerned that incompletely thought out comparisons will not benefit the industry or our clients. If we are to make progress towards any target that we are given, then we will require real information, not slogans. Otherwise we will be working blindly and inefficiently, which is exactly what this whole process is trying to eliminate.

I would like to know what changes could be made to say, British Standards or the Working Rule Agreement, which would bring about greater value for clients. They must also meet the commitment to people and allow my employer, as a main contractor, to make sufficient return to be able to offer more partnering arrangements with specialist subcontractors.

If the Construction Task Force can act as a consultant surgeon and say 'here is the problem', rather than a GP who tells us to take a couple of aspirin, then I shall study their report keenly.

Stephen King, CJ Sims, Essex House, 392 Rotherhithe Street, London SE16 1EF.

PS. As the engineer who undertook the finite element analysis and structural design of the ferrocement for these buildings ('New wave', NCE 26 March), I read your article with some interest. I was disappointed to find that my former employer NCL Stewart Scott, its director Patrick Jennings and I were all omitted from the report.

Although Derek Russell performed an invaluable task as the resident engineer for the ferrocement works, he has over-simplified the design input required for these particular structures. The means used to overcome the complexities of the shapes, limits on material availability, the need to consider unusually high wind loads and the desire to produce a final product that was aesthetically pleasing probably warrants another article.

Image conscious

As a graduate engineer approaching the later stages of my training I have followed the various letters regarding the status of chartered civil engineers and our future. To date, the majority of proposals aimed at raising our status has focused around the setting of higher academic standards for those wishing to join. This is totally missing the mark. The general public does not know what academic achievement is required to become a chartered engineer, nor does it care. In the mind of the general public there is little or no difference between our roles as qualified engineers and those who turn up on their doorsteps to repair the washing machine or unblock their drains.

For many graduate engineers the idea of pursuing yet further study before they can even start the ICE training course is more than enough to put them off engineering as a career and send them into better paid management positions. How many young engineers could, with existing first degree debts, afford to postpone earning an income for another year and raise further tuition and living expenses? After that, they would be required to find £100 a year for membership subscriptions and then start their career on a pittance of a salary.

What the ICE should be focusing on is the perception of engineers by the general public. As long as the general public associate engineers and engineering with washing machine repair or the unblocking of drains we will be condemned to our current predicament.

Chris Eng (G), CENG@whitby-bird.co.uk

Eel Pie ingredients

I enjoyed your brief but informative article on the Eel Pie Island footbridge (NCE 11 June). The bridge was actually built under the ICC Design and Construct Conditions and credit should be given to Cameron Holdsworth and Brian Clancy Partnership for the design. Thomason Partnership acted as client representative and planning supervisor.

N Russell, Thomason Partnership, 86 Epsom Road, Guildford, Surrey GU1 2BX.

Historic evidence

I guess it is inevitable that whenever Dave Parker puts his head over the parapet and shouts 'ALWC' the readers respond with a fusillade of expert comments.

There is already a solution to the problem using either sacrificial or impressed current cathodic protection systems which has been confirmed by the ECSC program of research. It is unfortunate that Parker has labelled this process as 'not cheap'. Cathodic protection is an extremely effective and economical solution to the problem. Seawater is an excellent current conductor so a distributed anode system can be used to provide a uniform current distribution which makes the whole system very economical to install.

Sir Humphrey Davy first started using cathodic protection in 1824 to prevent corrosion on Royal Navy ships. After 174 years I think we can be assured that cathodic protection does work in marine environments!

John Drewett (M), Concrete Repairs, Cathite House,

23a Willow Lane, Mitcham, Surrey, CR4 4TU.

Best intentions

I was interested to read the article 'CIOB seeks wider role' (NCE 18 June). We do indeed have support from 75% of members to change our name to The Chartered Institute of Construction. I was, however, concerned to see your comment that this was 'a move which could formalise the institute as an umbrella organisation with interests encompassing civil engineering, architecture and surveying'. This puts far too specialist a flavour on the objects clearly set out in our charter.

We provide a multi-disciplinary technical and management based qualification for the construction industry. Our charter has resulted in a very broad base of membership, and our members have an increasingly widespread involvement in the full range of construction activities. These are fundamental reasons for wishing to change our name. Nevertheless, we have no wish to trespass on the territory of our sister institutions, which have continuing - albeit in some cases more specialist - roles within the construction industry.

The CIOB and ICE have a special relationship which I hope will continue to flourish. We must work closely together to raise standards generally in the industry, and the CIOB has no intention of creating a monopoly in management of construction.

Keith Banbury, chief executive, The Chartered Institute of Building, The White House, Englemere, Kings Ride, Ascot, Berks SL5 7JR.

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