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Only trying to help!

Clients seem to be dragging their feet over efforts to reform the industry.

If the evidence of last week's NCE sponsored 'How to Rethink Construction' conference is to be believed then enthusiasm for change and innovation is infecting the industry like a virus.

Speakers and audience were burning with excitemment about the work they were doing to achieve the Egan goals of improved cost, time and quality.

The only group that seemed immune was, perversely, the clients.

If reports are to be believed Sir John Egan has been roaming the palatial offices of private sector clients trying out his half nelson on their occupants.

The phrase 'a little arm twisting from Sir John' cropped up regularly when people described how their client was persuaded to allow his scheme to be put forward as a demonstration project from which the whole industry can learn.

But this is not how it should be. Egan's 'Rethinking construction' report, Movement for Innovation and demonstration projects - in the fact the whole 'improve or die' shebang has been created because clients were unhappy with the performance of their suppliers.

Now those same suppliers want to do better for their clients, it is the clients who are reluctant to get involved (see News).

You can understand their nervousness, perhaps. Many clients have been on the end of construction's big ideas before and they have ended up costing them money.

But this time around, the industry is bending over backwards to come up with the goods and the onus is on the clients to play their part.

Ove Arup's Paul Craddock, who is on the M4i board - the body charged with leading the drive for improvement - says clients have to stop sitting on the sidelines waiting to be impressed.

'The motor industry and how it operates is always held up as what we should aspire to,' he says. 'But what the car manufacturers appreciated is that they are not really the client. The client is the motorist who buys the car.

'The manufacturers had to work with their suppliers to create a product the public wanted to buy.'

It seems many of construction's clients have yet to realise that. Procurers of projects have all signed up to the adage 'the client is king'; unfortunately they have failed to realise that the ultimate client is not themselves, but the users of the civil engineering or building projects they own.

The developer is really just another part of the construction team, and as such should get off his pedestal and get involved with everyone else in creating a better product.

'The greater intimacy the client has with a project, the more positive the results,' Craddock said.

Craddock cites the Highways Agency as an organisation that has understood its place in the procurement chain. 'It has recognised that it is the end user not itself as that is the procurer which has to be satisified. But it is reasonably unique in this.'

Until now. The Treasury yesterday announced targets for improving Government as a whole's performance as a client incorporating many of the lessons the Highways Agency has already learned. A whole raft of Government demonstration projects are in the offing. And hopefully where it leads, others will follow.

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