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Signoff: David Taylor

THERE IS a big demolition job about to go out to tender in the Middle East and, unless I am very much mistaken, it's going to be scooped by a major Anglo-US joint venture.

George Bush, who is leading the consortium, is so confident in his bid's chances of winning that he is already looking for partners to join him in the second phase.

A US government agency lined up a shortlist of 12 companies (all US firms, though, I notice) to bid for up to $900 million-worth of construction work in post-war Iraq. But how can they be so certain about Phase 2 when Phase 1 is not even under way yet?

The answer, I think, is smart bombs. If you know well in advance which chimneys you are going to drop your bombs down, you can start detailed planning for the redevelopment of each site.

I'm glad that Mr Bush has planned things properly this time, and not allowed himself to be sidetracked by irrelevant political and humanitarian issues.

He clearly shares the view of Bernd Stange, the Iraqi national football team's German coach, who said this week: 'I have worked for communist regimes, capitalists, for a sultanate and now for a dictator. But it's only ever about one thing: getting the ball in the net.' Or in this case, the bomb down the chimney.

ITSEEMS I got it all wrong about retentions. I thought employers kept hold of large wodges of their suppliers' money because it was nicer to have it in their own bank accounts rather than give it away to its rightful owners. To me, that makes sense - this is a business we are running here, not a charity.

Well, I was wrong, according to a colleague of mine. Retentions are not about employers trying every trick in the book to avoid paying up.

Apparently, they are partly about ensuring that our projects are good value for money, but they are mostly about making sure we have a healthy supply chain.

The argument goes something like this: First, the construction industry is about creating one-offs. 'Each project is a prototype, ' says my colleague.

Therefore, every project is going to have its flaws. Things won't be right first time and you will have to bring people back to correct their faults. But they will only come back if you refuse to pay them until they do.

Second, the construction industry is full of cowboys. That's why they bodge the job and won't come back to put it right unless you blackmail them.

Third, the construction industry is chronically under-capitalised and the most under-capitalised ones are the cowboys. So if you hang on to their fee for a while, they will go bust. Ergo, no more cowboys. If they are not cowboys they will be able to live on their cash reserves until you are forced to hand over the money.

So there you are, retentions are the construction industry's natural selection mechanism. It all makes perfect sense, but you could argue that it is a bit Draconian.

Suppose construction projects weren't such one-offs. Suppose we started making bits and pieces in factories instead of throwing them together on site. We might have fewer flaws. And if the employer and the supplier worked a bit closer together, that might reduce defects even more.

Perhaps the employer wouldn't have to hang on to the supplier's fee for so long. Then we would have better buildings, fewer defects, fewer claims, and less litigation. It's so simple;

I can't understand why no-one else has ever thought of it.

IT'S NICE to see so many construction firms making it into the Sunday Times' 100 Best Companies to Work For'. Interior, Arup and Mace all landed in the top 50.

My friend Kev the Plumber has already put himself forward for selection in next year's list. Sadly, I think he's in for a disappointment. To qualify, you have to employ at least 250 people, and Kev only has one staff member: himself.