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Signoff: David Taylor

WITH ALL this Egan-inspired reforming hype seeping into every corner of the construction industry, I sometimes yearn for a return to the bad old days when construction workers would travel to work by bike with an OXO tin full of corned beef sandwiches, work an 18-hour day shovelling granite with their bare hands and then return home for a bath in front of the scullery fire, before snatching a couple of hours' sleep and going through it all again.

Did I say yearn? Did I say OXO tin? Sorry - it must have been a rush of blood to the head.

But, like me, you might occasionally feel that the tales of harmoniously integrated supply chains partnered to the hilt, satisfied clients paying their contractors on time and no acrimonious disputes dragging on for years after the job is finished, are just too good to be true. Perhaps the occasional reminder of the bad old days might help to inject a note of reality to jar us out of our complacency.

Do you remember what it used to be like? Major projects were always running over time and out of money.

The lowest bid always won the job and clients encouraged Dutch auctions to make sure prices were rock bottom. Industrial strife was rampant, with strikes threatened at the smallest provocation and wage negotiations usually ended in a stand-off. Nobody was allowed to question the use of retentions - they were part of the price you were expected to pay for the privilege of working for a main contractor or client.

Ah, the bad old days. Or was that last week?

DID YOU know we run an advice centre at T4-2 headquarters? It seems, from the little feedback we have received in recent weeks, that this is one of the best kept secrets in the construction industry.

You will no doubt already know that T4-2 is a leading organisation in the campaign to expose hypocrisy and nepotism among the 'reforming' tendency in our industry (actually, it's the only one - no-one else is interested). But few people appear to know that our services extend way beyond simply campaigning for decency and fair play. We give out free advice: 'free' because there are no strings attached and we are frequently wrong; 'advice' because it makes us look like we can pull strings and are frequently right.

Until recently, this service took the form of a drop-in centre at our South London HQ. Troubled construction professionals would pitch up and wait patiently in a side room while whoever was on duty would see them one at a time, Citizens' Advice Bureau-style.

That was until recently. Something happened the other day that made us 're-think' our service. It was a Saturday, and although we do not normally open at weekends I was at the T4-2 headquarters doing a bit of paperwork when the door burst open and in marched a bunch of top British architects who had decided to drop in on their way back from the anti-war march.

They refused to be seen one at a time, and sat on the floor insisting that they would not budge until I stopped 'the war'. It was no good me pointing out that I hadn't started one.

For two hours I tried, in vain, to convince them that the imminent war against Iraq is in a just cause - namely the creation of business opportunities for Western construction professionals.

But it was the collection of horrifying pictures of architectural atrocities committed by Saddam against his own built environment that finally convinced them to leave. They all rushed off to start re-designing Baghdad.

We have now scrapped the drop-in idea and decided to go on-line, instead.

So, if you have a construction problem that you want to share with the rest of the industry, e-mail us at T4-2@hotmail. com and we'll sit on it for a few weeks.