European Union red tape is making public sector construction projects more expensive than they need to be, according to the new president of the Institution of Structural Engineers.
John Nolan, chairmen of Birmingham-based structural and civil engineering consultancy Nolan Associates, said he was “appalled” at the waste going on. Taxpayers, he cautioned, were not getting value for money.
Mr Nolan, whose duties as president will see him touring the world visiting ISE branches, said: “As I travel around I am often struck by the convoluted shapes of some of the modern buildings and stadia that I see.
“I admire the great skill of the structural engineers involved solving the problems set for them by the architect, helping them achieve their new masterpiece. Many of these buildings are marvellous additions to our environment and are rightly acclaimed; the new Olympic Velodrome is a great example.
“However, in my opinion, many more are different for the sake of being different and add little except cost to the environment and the project and often compromise the usability of the space within.
“I know of several cases recently where projects have been put into administration because the client couldn’t afford to build them even though the buildings had been almost fully pre let.
“In the end, in the private sector it is the clients’ responsibility to control their projects and they stand or fall by the cost of their schemes, but when it comes to the public sector I believe that we have a responsibility to society to do our best to achieve best value for money.”
Mr Nolan noted that state sector projects in the UK were required to be procured by way of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).
He went on: “I may be biased on this subject because we rarely win work this way but it is my opinion that this pre-qualification route has little to do with whether or not the practice has the appropriate skills and experience and much more to do with how skilled it is at filling in pre-qualification forms.
“I have never seen one yet that mentions cost effective design, or value for money, but when you interrogate the bid scoring you will almost invariably see the highest amount of points awarded to the ‘competitiveness’ of the fee.
“As a UK taxpayer I am appalled at the waste that this bureaucratic nonsense is generating.”
Mr Nolan said construction clients were losing out by forcing down fees – what they saved was often dwarfed by the higher costs which could have been cut back if the right advice had been procured.
He stated: “It is highly unlikely that a structural engineer who has been forced to take a reduced brief for a reduced fee will find the optimum cost for the building.
“Indeed, I would argue that of all the building design professionals, we have he greatest knowledge of how the building fits together and hence we have the potential to generate the best value.
“But in order to do this we need to be adequately recompensed because the extra value generated can be considerably greater than the cost.”
Too often structural engineers were treated as a commodity. But it was partly their own fault “because as a profession we undersell ourselves and
fail to explain the magic of what we do”.
Urging members to put that right, he added: “Structural engineers offer a great amount to the construction process and it is clear to me that we have a tremendously important role in the area of ‘cost versus value’.
“As an institution we should take the opportunity to raise our profile in this arena, since it impacts on safety; quality; sustainability; project viability and not least, the standing of engineers as part of the modern project team.”