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Signoff: David Taylor

EARLIER this week I heard on the radio that half of the kids in this country don't know the real meaning of Christmas. Nonsense! My kids know all about Father Christmas, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, roast turkey, Christmas pud, the Queen's Speech and - of course - where they're going to hang out their stockings on Sunday night.

But apparently I'm missing the point, which is that kids these days are not taught about the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and how He died on the cross to pay for our sins.

Personally, I don't feel too guilty about this. After nearly a decade of New Labour multiculturalism I know how insulting it would be for me to force my narrow-minded Western cultural values onto people of other faiths who have narrow-minded cultural values of their own.

Nevertheless, I do feel that the traditional Christmas story is not only a good yarn, but also a very useful allegory for our own construction industry.

First of all there's the Virgin Birth: Mary and Joseph have failed to consummate the marriage. They have a letter of intent but no proper contract. The risk of a claim arising seems pretty high, especially when it emerges that Mary is expecting a child. Was that in the risk assessment?

I doubt it. Joseph could get pretty shirty at this point but, astonishingly, he doesn't. Why not? Because he and Mary are partnering.

Nonetheless, Mary might have a claim - not against Joseph, but against The Client (aka God). Falling pregnant while still a virgin is one heck of a client var iat ion. Come to think of it, as Mary's husband , Joseph might feel he too has a claim against The Client. But remember that Joseph and Mary only have a letter of intent. Without a contract, Joseph's claim is likely to fail.

Mary is told by The Client's representative that there is no entitlement to an extension of time but she and Joseph decide they'll be able to accommodate The Client's additional requirements through excellent teamwork. They are also encouraged because Mary has been told she is 'highly favoured', which suggests she's made it onto The Client's list of preferred suppliers.

Mary and Joseph might have squared things up nicely with The Client, but they've reckoned without the interference of the Tax Authorities.

The Romans have introduced a new tax system so Mary and Joseph have to drop what they're doing in Nazareth and travel all the way to Bethlehem in order to register. Guess what? When they get there, the Romans' highly sophisticated and costly new system has crashed and there's a massive backlog.

Bethlehem is crammed full of people trying to get their paperwork sorted out. As a result, the Baby Jesus is born in a stable, contrary to what Joseph had written into his method statement.

Luckily, it all comes right in the end.

The Team is even rewarded for its performance by Three Wise Men, who have flattering things to say about Best Practice. Of course, we have to balance this with the Easter story . . . now there's an interesting allegory.

FINALLY, mention of Best Practice reminds me that I was at a conference the other day where people were preaching the gospel of continuous improvement and supply-chain integration.

One contractor was so pleased with himself that he talked for over half an hour without taking a single breath.

Representatives from his supply chain, nodded obediently as he explained how he's building hundreds of homes for his client, a housing association.

To my untutored eye, the new homes looked like ugly, cheap, plasticky little things. But nobody seemed to mind. The quality of the procurement process was superb and the client was delighted.