Dr David Hancock: delivering projects more efficiently

24 October 2017 | By David Hancock

Standardising use of NEC4 contracts should help foster a more productive construction industry, says Dr David Hancock, construction director at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority.

Dr David Hancock

Earlier this month I attended UK Construction Week at the NEC in Birmingham, the UK’s largest construction trade show, which showcases the latest in innovation and all the great things that can be achieved by the construction industry.

As I was walking around the stands and talking to exhibitors, I was delighted to hear about some of the fantastic initiatives that are currently under way – in particular the increasing appetite to develop more modern methods of construction.

We know that methods such as offsite manufacturing can bring speed and efficiency to the way we build, and the government certainly wants to see more of this from the industry.  The sector has the expertise and we need to help develop and grow this.

We also know that government has a strong role to play in shaping the industry, with over a quarter of construction output from the public sector and central government being the biggest single construction client. 

Our priority here in the Infrastucture and Projects Authority is to help deliver projects as efficiently as possible, to the highest standard, on time and on budget. But to do this we need to foster more collaborative working and shared understanding across the  supply chain.

Contracts in plain English

In September, I became chair of the NEC Users’ Group so I can help share government perspectives on NEC contracts. In my view, their real value is that they are written in plain English and are designed so they facilitate good project management – from planning, defining legal relationships and procurement, right through to completion and beyond.

The Government Construction Board, which I also chair, has recommended that NEC4 should be used where appropriate. Standardising the use of this comprehensive suite of contracts should help to deliver efficiencies across the public sector, and promote behaviours in line with the principles of the Government Construction Strategy – our plan to increase productivity and get better quality and value for money on all our construction projects.

New Scotland Yard won this year’s Better Public Building Award (Image: Flickr/Captain Roger Fenton.1860)

One way we can help drive these changes is by celebrating and rewarding some of the very best examples of efficient construction. 

This year’s Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award, which is sponsored by the Infrastructure and Project Authority and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, specifically recognises publicly funded projects that demonstrate innovative and productive construction, deliver value for money for the taxpayer and bring real change to communities.  

Better service to the public

This year’s winner, presented by the minister for government resilience and efficiency, Caroline Nokes, was the New Scotland Yard building on the Victoria Embankment. It has remodelled and extended an existing building for the Metropolitan Police Service’s new headquarters and saw the police returning to one of their former homes, the Curtis Green Building. 

Crucially, the project was delivered on time and funded from the sale of its former headquarters – so at no extra cost to the taxpayer. It has created an innovative, well designed, fit-for-purpose building. And it is set to deliver savings and efficiencies as well as improve the service provided to the public.

There are still some issues the industry needs to address – such as the gender gap, which remains disappointing. Nearly 90%of all employees across the sector are male. I hope we will see progress made in these areas as we continue to drive more efficient and effective delivery of projects all over the country.

Dr David Hancock is construction director of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which reports to the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury


But where would efficiency leave us when there are so many people who think doing a good job well, the first time right, is something that is boring and for people who don't have a life?

Put it this way, I'm working on a $522 million scheme where the project design was given to a firm that couldn't do it, who subcontracted the design to a range of equally small firms who also couldn't do it. Delivery of the design was never managed well, and consultants ran out of money before they were finished, not helped by the main designer withholding fees for spurious reasons. Despite the many self-evident problems, the head of the lead design firm has managed to consistently evade responsibility, and some individual consultants despite failing to deliver repeatedly still haven't been sacked.

The client having believed a pack of lies all along, still hasn't cottoned onto the fact they have a problem in the making; if anything they are believeing they can make major changes at any time in the course of construction with minimal consequences!

Myself, I and others I work with are bewildered with how you can expect to deliver a project that size with a half completed design, no timeframe for the rest of it coming, with the design architects (to pick one consultant) not engaged to provide any site delivery services, while the site architect has a list as long as his arm of things he absolutely won't do (anything MEP or facade related and materials among them).

I keep hearing again and again about efficiency in construction, but for 20 years I've not ever seen any interest in it from anyone.

John, 25 October 2017

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