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How specialist contractors can help save billions

The Confederation of Construction Specialists believes it can save main UK contractors and building owners more than £20 billion every year, says Richard Noble

What is even more amazing is that achieving this relies on following only two simple cost management rules. Neither of which require drastic changes in procedures or harsh measures – like cutting staff or material quality.

CCS, which counts some of the most high profile specialist contractors in the country among its members, recommends the following:

Involving specialist contracts at the earliest possible stage of a new project, stopping ‘risk dumping’ and creating a clear chain of accountability

The first measure is one that has been welcomed with open arms by parts of the public sector but is still viewed with a certain degree of skepticism by its private counterparts.

CCS aims to allay these concerns by emphasising the benefits of Early Specialist Contractor Involvement (ESCI) at every available opportunity.

For example, the more complex a project is the greater the potential cost savings ESCI can bring. This is particularly relevant where the developer leaves the main contractor to pick the most affordable solution.

Specialist contractors have the knowledge and experience to consider all elements of the proposed scheme, before providing expert advice on what designs and systems would ensure optimum quality and cost effectiveness.

Although they can suggest good solutions when hired at a later stage, if specialists are drafted in right from the very start they can be a major boost to managing the total budget of a project. Massive potential savings can be pinpointed before designs are even drawn up, benefiting everyone involved in the scheme.

An example of this in action is the common error made by main contractors in choosing the cheapest steel frame possible for building, then planning the rest of the construction around it.

This might seem like a great way to save money at the outset but can lead to bigger costs down the road.

To explain, such an approach will often not factor in the curtain walling needed for the project. If it turns out to be a hung system, something that is quite commonplace, the steel frame may not be sturdy enough to support such weight. In this situation, a secondary steel system may have to be incorporated or a load bearing curtain walling system used instead and costs start to spiral from there.

However, if a specialist curtain walling contractor was involved from the beginning it would be able to advise on the ideal requirements of the building frame – saving construction time and, of course, money on the combined frame and envelope construction.

Another way ESCI involvement can make a dramatic difference is in knowledge of off site construction methods.

Where there is repetition, even on major, one off architectural projects, there is plenty of scope for using this ever increasingly popular method of system construction.

Entire housing projects, whether low rise or high rise, with identical layouts over a multitude of new homes, can all be built off site using state of the art modular techniques – with no loss in quality. In modern architectural buildings such as shopping centres, all the toilets can be the same so that complete toilet pods are constructed off-site and lifted into place with the minimum amount of work.

One group embracing this system are the major fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King. With off site construction meaning that the main building is ready to be delivered as soon as the foundations are completed. In fact, a new restaurant can open within a week of foundation work being completed.

As off site techniques continue to develop, more flexible design options are becoming available and uniformity is no longer the key benefit. In the public sector, many new schools are being built using this principle and some incredibly innovative structures are being created that provide a real lesson in good design.

Finally, when ESCI is used, far more often than not projects are completed on time or even ahead of schedule. This has particularly benefited larger highways schemes in the UK, where forward planning on every aspect of a project has benefited hugely from the support of individual specialists working together.

It is a process that can work just as well in the private sector too, where finishing early enhances a main contractor’s reputation and severely cuts costly site times.

The second cost management measure is part of a major campaign being led by the Confederation of Construction Specialists, launched this summer.

Put simply, CCS believes billions can be saved in lower building administration costs by avoiding the practice of ‘risk dumping’, whereby the onus of blame is often put on just one organisation (normally the last in the supply chain, such as a specialist sub-contractor).

Not only is this system unfair, it also means that every organisation in the supply chain has to repeat design calculations at every level to check the information given to them. It is an incredibly inefficient and time consuming process, which is increasing costs by up to 30% or an extra £18 billion every year.

On behalf of its members, and all specialist contractors, CCS is campaigning at a government level to persuade everyone in the construction process to take a fairer and more sensible approach to risk appointment.

CCS hopes that, if main contractors – both public and private – follow the two simple measures recommended above, billions of wasted pounds will be brought back into the industry and set a strong precedent for future generations.

Richard Noble is a spokesman and former chairman of Confederation of Construction Specialists and Booth Concrete (part of the Alfred Booth Group).