Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2001
MOTTRAM, KCB, MR
CBE AND MR
1. Sir Richard, welcome.
(Sir Richard Mottram) Thank you, Chairman.
2. My apologies for keeping you waiting. We
had a little exercise to complete, I am sure you will note at
some point. The vote has made us a little later than we expected.
My apologies to you and your people for the delay. Welcome, Mr
Gershon, this is your first meeting, I understand. Who is your
(Mr Gershon) Deryk Eke, OGC Director
of Construction, who is on secondment from the BAA.
3. Welcome to you. I trust your secondment is
more peaceful than your original job, given where you are from.
I am going to start off with a question on modernising construction
relating to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on that.
I am going to start with Mr Gershon rather than Sir Richard. Mr
Gershon, I try to give you at the beginning of each question the
reference point in the NAO document so you can see what I am talking
about. My first question to you is Figure 10 on page 19. That
indicates to us that numerous initiatives, the most recent listed
there, have emphasised the need to improve the performance of
publicly funded construction projects. In 1999, 73 per cent of
projects were over budget and 70 per cent were late. That is in
Figure 2. How are you going to succeed on achieving better performance
when the early initiatives have failed?
(Mr Gershon) The figures you refer to came from a
report that was a benchmarking study that was done for us by Bath
University, in order to establish a firm baseline against which
we could get a true understanding of the current situation and
then start to determine the scope for improvement initiatives.
It was only in 1999 that the Achieving Excellence programme was
launched, so that report you refer to defines the starting point,
which is not very good, and indicates that there is plenty of
scope for improvement. It reflects, clearly, the historical position
that has arisen as a result of previous procurement and project
4. It does indicate a systemic problem, you
have to deal with it.
(Mr Gershon) There are systemic problems we have to
deal with in terms of improving the performance of the Government's
5. Others I am sure will come back and elaborate
on that question. The second point is, how you are you going to
persuade departments to put in the extra work needed to make procurement
decisions based not just on the apparent initial costs but on
the full-term costs, quality and reliability of projects?
(Mr Gershon) There are a number of aspects to that.
Firstly, we have now issued clear guidance on the subject. Secondly,
through training. Thirdly, through the promulgation of case studies
that illustrate to departments the clear benefits of taking a
whole life approach rather than just making decisions on the basis
of initial purchase price. As referred to in the report, on the
larger, more complex and novel projects using a system of independent
peer reviews at critical points, particularly in the early life
cycle of projects, will give us a clear view as to whether project
sponsors are making decisions based on whole-life costs and the
overall value for money, rather than the initial purchase price.
6. Good. Again, I suspect others will come back
and press you on that. I want to move on to page 12, paragraph
13, which recommends that you disseminate good practice more widely
to ensure that it is in smaller departments. I also see from paragraph
1.15, on page 26, you started discussions to fund large capital
programmes indirectly and how they help to improve procurement.
I have in mind, we have had in front of this Committee, for example,
the Arts Councilthe Lottery Grants issue, which have shown
spectacular overruns. No doubt there are others elsewhere in Government.
Can you tell us what progress you have made in them? What are
you doing to encourage training on a large number of firms who
individually spend smaller amounts on construction, but are actually
responsible for a large amount of expenditure?
(Mr Gershon) This report has correctly identified
that within the OGC we need to spend more effort now focusing
on the smaller departments and those departments which then pass
money on further through the public sector, through NDPBs, and
beyond. As a result of a reorganisation that we are undertaking
now within the OGC in the next fiscal year we will have the equivalent
of 35 people focused on the construction agenda compared to this
year, where we have had the equivalent of ten. There will be a
substantial increase in the resources. Part of that increase in
resources will be focused on, firstly, documenting more case studies,
promulgating those case studies through road shows, some of which
will be done in conjunction with the DETR, and also supporting
a number of project enablers, who will get out amongst the smaller
departments, and the NDPB to help on specific projects, in the
sense that we are not just dependent on them reading the material
and going to seminars, but they will be able to have direct hands-on
help to help them with this these types of projects. Also OGC's
supervisory board, which is chaired by the chief secretary, and
comprises a number of the key permanent secretarieswho
will be taking a paper on the subject of Achieving Excellence
in Construction at its meeting next week. One of the issues I
will be discussing with them is how we might approach with NDPBs
the possibility of changing their financial memoranda to reinforce
the measures we expect them to undertake now relating to construction
procurement, both of new buildings and repairs and maintenance,
in accordance with the best practice guidance that is emanating
from the OGC and the DETR.
7. Thank you for that. You have been broken
in. Sir Richard, Figure 8, page 17, shows that the construction
industry is very fragmented with 163,000 firms. That is reflected
in a cat's cradle of bodies and initiatives to improve the industry's
performance shown in Figure 18. Paragraph 1.15 of the report points
you to this dissemination. Can anything be done to refine or coordinate
this issue further? If not, how are you going to address that
challenge of complexity of organisations and initiatives?
(Sir Richard Mottram) The way the diagram is drawn
in Figure 18 certainly does produce this cat's cradle effect.
If you recognise that this is an industry with 1.9 million employees
and there are about 140 different institutions that represent
what is a very broad ranging set of industries then, in my view,
it would be very surprising if could you draw a simple diagram.
I think this diagram rather over-complicates the position.
8. It does look like a Florida ballot paper.
(Sir Richard Mottram) Chairman, you know me, I do
not think I will get into that. I was really going to make two
points, if one thinks about the right-hand side, the Pan Industry
Bodieswe could draw this diagram differently, I am not
arguing about the diagram, you could draw the diagram differently
because the construction industry board sits, effectively, on
top of a number of these bodies underneath who, in turn, are representative
of a large number of bodies underneath them. To that extent, on
the industry side there is a structure that we are trying very
clearly to work with to make a success of, built around the Construction
Industry Board. Just as in any other industry, a training board,
somebody who looks at research, somebody that looks at innovation
in the long-term, a lot of that will be unsurprising for an industry
of this size. If one looks at the left-hand side of the diagram
I do not think that that is particularly complicated. What we
have done is post-Egan we have created a set of structures for
innovation, for example, which are quite clearly sector related
and it is not difficult for people to understand how they relate
to those. We have a consolidated approach to disseminating best
practice, in ways I can explain, and we are focused on strengthening
the role of clients in relation to this improvement programme.
We are working with the industry to facilitate an over-arching
client body that can help determine messages. It is very complicated.
If you were in the structure and you were either a small player
or a big player you can relate to your own industry body, you
can relate to the industry body above, you can relate to the various
DETR/industry programmes that we are putting out in ways I can
9. That is fair enough. Can I move to paragraph
1.9, which explains, that contractors should be encouraged to
put forward Demonstration Projects, which show how the Egan Targets
can be achieved and lessons can be passed on to others. Initially
all suggestions for Demonstration Projects were accepted. That
is 1.13. I see that by May of last year only 31 cases were generated
out of 171 projects finally accepted. I think that is right.
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes.
10. How are you ensuring all of the projects
are providing lessons that can be properly learned?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I think this has been a two
stage process. When we were moving on from the Egan Report itself
and the movement for innovation was created, each of the demonstration
projects that were included in that process had to illustrate
lessons of value in relation to at least one aspect of the Egan
agenda. I think that it would be true to say that the key thing
at that stage was to get this process running, to get demonstration
projectsin other words, to capture the enthusiasm of the
industry to participate. As that process has gone on, the way
in which it is being run is now stricter, really, about what you
have to do to qualify as a demonstration project. In the last
year, or so, the criterion has been tighter. The aim is that in
relation to every project that is a demonstration project, whether
it is coming on now or was one of the initial ones, it clearly
illustrates, at least, one aspect of Egan Agenda and the results
of the projects can be measuredI have lots of lovely glossies,
Chairman, which show how the results of these demonstration projects
are being disseminated around the industry in ways which illustrate
how they relate to all of the component parts of the Egan Agenda.
11. It will be interesting to see how that works
out. Paragraph 8 shows that partnering on long term, collaborative
relationships are considered to have good potential for improving
both the cost and the quality of construction, with savings as
high as 30 per cent in the costs have been reported to the private
sector. How does this compare with regard to departments and firms,
about which I am mighty suspicious?
(Sir Richard Mottram) In what way?
12. You carry on and answer my question before
I answer yours.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I think the report brings out
a number of examples, does it not, of how in relation to particular
areas of the public sector, and we can look at one or two of those,
this best practice is being implemented, including in relation
to partnering. The improvement in value for money that is being
achieved is a key criterion and also in relation to the standard
considerations about procurement on time and in relation to what
you are trying to get. There are plenty of examples. The spread
of value for money savings that have been achieved is quite wide,
as the report brings out very clearly, which is, I think, rather
what would one expect when you are rolling out a process which
requires a lot of people to change their practices, to buy into
new ways of doing things. Some of what is currently being built,
so to speak, or a lot of what is being built reflect practice
which goes back a number of years. We can look at some of the
examples which the NAO brought out, about how they illustrate
Chairman: Others may want to raise that. I am
always suspicious of partnering, because they get too cosy.
13. Can I ask some general questions, first
of all, to Sir Richard, one of the inherent problems of the construction
industry in terms of productivity and profitability is some boom/bust
economy that we have seen prior to this government?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes.
14. Are you findingnow there is more
stability, there is more investment in training fundamentalsthat
you are getting away from the situation where construction companies
did not want to put down investment in case they had to shed their
labour and skills every few years?
(Sir Richard Mottram) We think that there obviously
are, actually, important macro-economic aspects to this problem.
If you look at, for example, which I think is your question, employment
in the construction industry, it has been very cyclical in relation
to economic activity. That does make things more difficult, I
am not getting into when the boom was and when the bust was.
15. Is it not the case that we will see the
productivity benefits, et cetera, that you are predicting, for
other reasons, because the economy is more stable?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I do not think so. The industry
faces a number of fundamental problems which will take a lot of
effort. The DETR role is really quite a small one. It is trying
to shape an agenda and work with the industry to make a success
of it. What we can see is an industry, where profitability is
very low, that is still the case, I think, where they have serious
problems in the way in which they recruit and retain people and
where because, actually, there is now a stronger economy they
face serious skill shortages. They are also very weak on research
and development. Unless we can do something across the range of
these areas, do something about profitabilitywe can talk
about howto improve the way in which the whole industry
is project managed and manages its supply chain, improve the role
of clients, create a much more appealing working environment that
will persuade people to come in and to stay, unless we can do
all those things then I think the industry will be in trouble,
16. Given there is a skill shortage, what are
you doing to ensure there are sufficient skills quickly enough
to avoid the taxpayer paying over the odds because there is a
shortage of skilled people to deliver the projects we want.
(Sir Richard Mottram) My department are not responsible
for the industrial training side of this industry, that is a DfEE
responsibility. What we are trying to do, for example, in all
of the work that we have been doing on a better framework for
people in the industry is that people see this as an attractive
job and once they join they stay. We can go through some of those
things, which are about health and safety, about the working environment,
about all of those considerations, alongside ensuring that the
training mechanisms across the economy as a whole are producing
the people that are needed. If you look in the report at the balance
of the work force you can see that actually it is, like other
areas of the economy, ageingincluding meand it is
heavily skewed, only nine per cent are women, for example, and
two per cent ethnic minorities. Those balances have to change
if you are going to be confident that this is an industry that
can get people in.
17. Do you feel that given the labour market
is tight, there are more jobs, and given historically the construction
is high risk/low margin and cyclical, do you feel enough people
are coming forward for future demands at the level of productivity
we want to get value for money? Are you not doing any of that?
(Sir Richard Mottram) We have to have a range of measures
which include, for example, as you say it is low profitability/high
risk. We want it to be managed risk, higher profitability. That
is one of the things we are trying to work on with the industry.
18. Do you think those problems we have been
very briefly discussing are, perhaps, more fundamental than a
complete preoccupation with methods of procurement? My understanding
is that we have moved from traditional procurement of the lowest
price, with a claw-back when people say you have broken the contract,
we want some more money and change the design, we should move
towards PFI design or build and prime contracting. Is it not the
case that all those three suffer from that same problem, that
in PFI there can be endless wrangling about breached clauses and
lots of lawyers being paid a lot of money. The bottom line is
there is a more fundamental issue about the supply of skilled
labour to deliver construction productions. Is your whole department
being completely sidetracked into all these complex procurement
things people talk about, when it would be simpler to get on with
(Sir Richard Mottram) If you think that a fundamental
problem is that this is a cyclical, a high risk, low profitability
industry which booms and busts then you have to try and do something
about that. These technical procurement methods are about changing
the climate in which the whole industry operates, out of which
you should get better labour productivity, which will help, you
will have less waste, which means you can produce more for any
given input, etc. They are fundamental to getting an output matched
to what is going to be, in my view, quite a tight labour situation
while the economy is very strong.
19. The Chairman mentioned in the 1999 report
it showed that 73 per cent of public sector construction projects
were over budget and 70 per cent were delivered late. How does
that compare with the private sector or do you not know? I would
imagine the private sector delivers late and goes over budget
anyway, it is in their interest to do so?
(Mr Gershon) For the private sector?
1 Note by Witness: To facilitate an over-arching
client body to help determine messages is not very complicated,
not complicated, as previously stated. Back