The procurement research that FIS commissioned through the University of Reading and launched last month brings the challenges we face as a sector into sharp focus. It also gives us some hard evidence to bring to the transformation debate, evidence that problems on site are magnified by late appointments and a rush to get boots on site, often before design detailing is complete.
FIS is committed to producing guidance to help define and support best practice. In this edition alone you will see the launch of multiple guides. The Guide to Creating a Competency Management Plan. Guide to Pre-Construction for Drylining, the Client Guide to Fit-out and the Guide to Repairing Lath and Plaster Ceilings.
A lot of work has gone into these, but we know much will be for the birds if we don’t address poor procurement and payment practices. I am not belittling this focus on best practice, it is essential, but it is not in itself enough. We need to also ensure the market is driven toward best practice. This starts with identifying what best practice is, but also through research and challenging the market – pointing out where it isn’t.
At the heart of our strategy is the concept of the interior supersystem. A building is made up of five supersystems, which in turn are made up of critical systems (in the case of interiors – walls, ceilings, floors and staircases), which themselves comprise products and ultimately components. We need, before we start building stuff, to be clear who is expected to take responsibility for what element and critically that this focus extends to the interfaces and fixings.
At the moment, too much continues to be mopped up by catch-all design development clauses that we routinely see in heavily amended contracts. Misguided risk avoidance clauses are born of outdated procurement models and ill-defined responsibility matrices that leave critical details like interfaces and fixing left to specialist contractors. These clauses leave room for vital decisions to be made at the last minute under severe time pressure.
In this environment, we still see instances where a company does flag concerns, but doesn’t win or walks away from the tender because another company tendering for the work has missed it and priced it wrong.
In this instance future decisions are made chasing an unsustainable price on a project that has to be redesigned on the fly – the risk of failure is high. That is not to say most of what we are building is not compliant or high quality, but we are exposing ourselves to the risk that design has to be adapted and buildability is undermined. Beyond compliance issues, this approach is causing waste, putting pressure on programmes, adding tension and undermining trust. As a stark reminder, the ESL case covered in this edition gives us an indication of how this plays out if the wrong decisions are made (a caveat is not a golden ticket!).
The procurement research helps to quantify these issues and to instruct our wider work. A jewel in this is the newly formed Passive Fire Knowledge Group (PFKG). This group gives me hope – we are seeing more collaboration and focus up the supply chain than I have experienced before. This new group, co-chaired by our own Joe Cilia, is bringing together a group of progressive main contractors to understand and isolate common concerns and will help us to revisit the design and specification process with an emphasis on construction design and management. We are also, through FIS, addressing specific technical details and problems (some being raised by the PFKG) through targeted working groups such as Ceilings and Walls as a System.
This will all ultimately support our focus on competence through the development of new resources and guidance.
The Building Safety Act has finally started to drive these changes and, with FIS at the epicentre of much of the work, I am starting to see glimmers of hope that a new emphasis on pre-construction and risk management means a better industry is finally within our grasp.