On the day after the 10th anniversary of Al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center the National 9/11 Memorial, designed by architect Michael Arad, will be opened. Two huge 3,500m2 stone waterfalls have been positioned exactly on the site of the towers’ foundations and cascade down 10m to a small central opening on the walls of which are carved the names of the 2,983 people that died when the towers collapsed. The $700m project will also comprise a museum, which is due to open next year.
Contractors on public sector contracts are set to get X Factor-style “mentors” in the shape of senior civil servants who will monitor their work and provide feedback to company bosses to help improve performance.
Under new procedures for public sector contracts, government departments will appoint a “crown representative” who will hold regular meetings with the chief executives of the “top 10” contractors and consultants working on government contracts.
The plan is part of new procurement rules put forward by the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG), under the aegis of cabinet office minister and paymaster general Francis Maude, and is expected to be rolled out over the next year.
The ERG, which replaced the Office of Government Commerce after last year’s election, was established with a remit to reduce costs and provide Whitehall with additional leverage with its buying power when negotiating with suppliers.
One supplier said: “The mentor will be a very senior civil servant, not some 24-year-old that’s wet behind the ears, but someone with lots of experience in government procurement who can talk one on one to chief executives and managing directors. The idea is they will meet two to three times each year to discuss the supplier’s performance and what improvements can be made to benefit both parties.”
He added: “It is a bit like the X Factor, but it’s really all about ensuring the government gets value for money. It will also give contractors the chance to discuss specific issues on a contract or issues surrounding government procurement in general with a senior Whitehall figure on a regular basis.”
A cabinet office spokesperson said: “Crown representatives enable government to fundamentally change the way it does business with its major suppliers. We are putting an end to the days when departments could sign up, without any central control or coordination, to a series of different contracts with the same supplier.”
She added: “Crown representatives can also intervene to solve problems more quickly as they interact at a more senior level, liaising with construction company chief executives on behalf of departments.”
Crown representatives have been used extensively by other government departments such as the MoD, but only now is the mentoring role being used for construction procurement.
For the initial phase of the scheme, Vincent Godfrey, procurement director at the Ministry of Justice and Ann Pedder, commercial director with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will mentor Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Interserve.
While only the largest will be given a mentor, all suppliers will now be rated by the Contractor Appraisal Feedback (CAF) system, under which they will be rated twice a year by government departments on their ability to improve performance and reduce costs. They will also be rated on their commitment to sustainability
as well as their technical and commercial capability.
Contractors will also be rated on their willingness to attend regular client meetings and ranked on their ability to achieve high BREEAM ratings and reduce the carbon impact of suppliers within their own supply chain.
Under the CAF scoring system, contractors will be rated on a sliding scale of 0-5, with zero denoting “unacceptable” and 5 standing for “excellent”.
Fires on sites with timber frame developments led the HSE to introduce new safety requirements. Paul Wood/frpix
Contractors are warning that the cost of complying with more stringent fire safety requirements on multi-storey timber frame developments could lead to many switching back to traditional construction, writes Michael Glackin.
Use of timber frame building in the UK jumped sharply during the housing boom as contractors sought to speed up construction schedules to meet increasing demand and comply with new environmental requirements.
But a series of fires in recent years on sites where multi-storey timber frame developments were under construction led the HSE to issue more stringent safety requirements in October 2010.
The main emphasis of the requirements is to prevent fires spreading throughout a site, which means contractors must implement a range of temporary fire protection measures during the building phase, increasing costs.
David Stockham, divisional managing director of Balfour Beatty-owned Cowlin Construction, which has just finished a timber-frame scheme at Exeter University, said: “The increased burden of taking measures to comply with HSE fire guidance for timber frame means it is becoming less efficient and less cost effective.”
He added: “In terms of the cost difference between timber frame and block construction I think we are getting close to a tipping point, where traditional construction is actually less expensive, even allowing for the speed of timber frame construction.”
Measures firms have to put in place include employing fire marshalls to patrol buildings round the clock during construction, erecting screens to act as fire breaks between buildings, and installing temporary fire escapes.
David Nimmo, technical and construction director at Stewart Milne Timber Systems, said: “The HSE guidelines have certainly forced companies to think differently about their health and safety management.”
He added: “Our team is continually developing innovative practices to deliver the required compartmentation with minimal cost and time implications. As a timber frame provider, we actively encourage progressive handovers, so if anything, the guidelines have benefited our existing on-site processes.”
Simon Orrells, chairman of the UK Timber Frame Association, said: “We know from our own research that over 80% of UK contractors are concerned about the cost of site security regardless of the build method so this isn’t an issue specific to timber frame. Having said that, if contractors engaged with timber frame manufacturers much earlier in the design process then the cost of site security could be negated by better overall cost management of the build.”
QS Stuart Hill, an associate at Calfordseaden, said: ”Contractors have difficulty in proving compliance with the new HSE guidance. The consequence is that on sites developed under design-and-build agreements it is easier to revert to masonry construction.”
Reading University’s School of Construction Management has held workshops and presentations for staff members of the Faculty of Architecture from the University of Khartoum in Sudan. The visit was part of a three-year project funded with £60,000 from the Department for International Development. Lectures covered Sudan’s slum problem and its development of a social housing programme.
The new 2011 JCT suite of contracts launches this month in anticipation of the changes to the Construction Act from 1 October. Included is reference to the new Bribery Act and a revised insolvency definition.
The 19th London Open House event will take place on 17-18 September, with more than 700 of the capital’s buildings, both ancient and modern, opening their doors to the public — all for free. Highlights will include the BT Tower and site visits to Blackfriars station.
Contractors and unions are to hold crunch talks in a fresh bid to oust Construction Skills Certification Scheme chairman Trevor Walker.
The talks follow August’s failed attempt to force Walker’s resignation by a number of CSCS board members. A motion to remove him failed to pass after Walker used his casting vote as chairman to tie the ballot and save himself.
CSCS chief executive Brian Adams, who is stepping down at Christmas, voted to support Walker, along with three union representatives and the clients’ group board member.
But CM has learned the unions may withdraw their support in return for a commitment from Walker’s opposers that they will develop the current CSCS card amid speculation that the UK Contractors Group wants to abandon it for its own scheme.
A source close to the row said: “Those opposed to Walker could meet with a sympathetic ear if they are committed to developing the CSCS card. The card needs to be much more rigorous in its health and safety requirements, for example, and if there is a commitment to that I suspect the unions will support the rebels. But any talk of establishing a new card when the current one has over a million users is a non-starter.”
UKCG chief executive Stephen Ratcliffe declined to comment on whether his organisation will set up an alternative skill card and refused to confirm upcoming talks with construction unions. He said: “We’re working very hard to resolve the situation. The UKCG is fully committed to having a card scheme that has the full support of all the industry.”
No one at the CSCS was available for comment.