Having spent so much time working in different parts of the world sometimes you forget where home really is. Moreover, I have met many ex-pats who may have many assets but have no base – no real home. It is taken me a long time to come to the conclusion that not only is my home in Brisbane but so is my heart.
I have lived in Brisbane since 1989 but have spent more than half of that time either working overseas or in various far flung construction sites in every state of Australia. Coal mines, iron ore processing, commercial building, water treatment plants, meat works, high rise etc etc. Now I just want to live here, no more FIFO, no more cheap motels, airport lounges nor hire 4WDs. OK the construction industry here is on the slide, the boom years are over and over the next twelve months there will be even more builders going to the wall or sacking staff.
Recently I have been asked to head back to Perth, I have been approached to return to Qatar to build football stadia for the World Cup. But I declined, they can keep their money I simply want to sleep in my own bed each night.
It is symptomatic of our industry that often companies assume being busy equates to making money. All too often it just means acceleration towards bankruptcy. Increased activity does not necessarily mean making greater profit. Nobody hold a gun to our heads to force us into signing a contract, yet we still sign up for projects with unrealistic programmes, inadequate budgets, and risks which we believe can be overcome. It is plain and simple delusion.
The warning signs begin with the tender process. In order to save development costs, clients do not put the required resources into preparing tender documentation. They work under the false illusion that “the market” will determine the best price and the contract will save them from a “switched on” builder. The reality is that “the market” consists of builders who know their game and as long as they understand activity versus profit, the tenders will reflect the completeness of the tender documentation.
Some years ago I delivered a large coal infrastructure project in Kalimantan for an Indonesian client. To keep costs down the client believed he could set the tenders up with minimal documentation, unproven consultants and a catch-all contract. What it would have cost for proper tender documentation was less than 5% of what it cost in contractual claims, delayed production, legal fees and lost profit.
The next twelve months here in Australia will be difficult fr the construction industry, especially for employees who have never experienced really bad times. Yes I am old enough to have gone through Arab oil embargos and three day weeks. It won’t be as bad as that but large contractors will shed staff, salaries will continue their decline and there will be lack of confidence generally. The difference will be contractors will not win work at any price and make cuts in overheads earlier.
Seek.com will be in most people’s favourite bar, LinkedIn will continue its exponential growth, as we all brace ourselves for a bumpy ride.
Builders hire external quantity surveyors only as a last resort. Usually after months of trying to convince themselves that the project bottom line will improve, they realize that they are in for a contractual fight with the client and any straw needs to be grasped.
Month after month of cost reports with ever diminishing margin, force them to consider the battle ahead. That means finding every conceivable error, ambiguity, inference in the contract documents or any slip by the client’s representative. Project managers think they are experts in construction law, directors look for blame, and the site based project team convince themselves they have a cas against the client. Delusion has set in.
Wonderful expressions are uttered, “global claims”, “unfair enrichment”, deceptive and misleading conduct” All are bandied about with as much abandon in the site office as in the boardroom. Sight is completely lost of the simplicity of contractual claims:
What did the client do or not do?
Did this cause us costs?
Is it recoverable under the contract?
What are those costs?
The client’s quantity surveyor has either dismissed or taken a blow torch to variation claims and because builders are not in the quantity surveying club, they are forced to seek the services of an external professional – the QS.
by Gerry Keating
So we go through the very expensive exercise of our people talking to their people and if we are lucky end up with a compromise on the steps of the court.
The alternative is to start the process from the day the first variation is carved up by the client’s QS, not wait until the dire cost report forces the issue. Get in early, don’t get time barred, and do not put up with any nonsense from a QS who probably created the errors or ambiguities in the first place.