Blog author: Richard Saxon, JCT Chairman

Every country has a construction industry unique to itself. Members of each see their way of developing, designing, building and operating buildings as normal and other country’s ways as exotic. Mostly however, members don’t look outside their own construction culture. I have often thought that a good module for courses in professional education would be ‘International Comparative Construction’, teaching students to question how and why things are done the way they are at home. Japan, Germany, the USA, France and the UK would provide endless evidence of culturally-driven difference.

But we are globalising, with regular attempts to transfer ideas from one construction culture to another. Failures litter the path, from the short-lived impact of US-style Construction Management to the Japanese contractors’ move to set up here in the 80s. BIM provides a new globalising force, based on an international club called ‘buildingSMART’ which aims to create an interoperable approach for all users. The UK leads the world BIM charge right now, with its set of draft standards likely to become the ISO standards for BIM. An EU BIM conference formed in 2014 for interested countries to learn with the UK and to develop their own mandates, plus European and eventually world standards. Denmark is one member of the conference and has a construction strategy involving 34 different initiatives. One of these is to update the official construction contract.

Denmark operates a national construction contract regime which has previously been updated roughly every 20 years. The current 1990s edition now suffers from much ad-hoc amendment and a committee has been appointed this year to write the next edition. The committee is very like JCT, with balanced representation across the client, consultant and constructor spectrum. The Danish Association of Construction Clients already knows me as I spoke at their 2011 conference on the subject of value. They suggested to the committee that I should address them with my JCT hat on to stimulate thinking on what the next contracts should be like.

So it came to be that on August 26th I ran through the history of the last 25 years’ attempts to modernise construction and its contracts in the UK, to the point where we took the lead on BIM and plotted the way forward into Digital Built Britain, the report in March 2015 which expects further sweeping changes as technology enables new business models.

UK construction contracts are nothing like those in mainland Europe where the law is based on ‘Code Napoleon’, the French concept imposed by Bonaparte over 200 years ago. UK contracts are based on common law where the meaning of words is central; theirs are based on the intention behind the law. A contract can be much shorter and Danish contracts do not restate the basic law on which they rely.

Our discussions ranged widely. The Danes have not got the concept of collaboration in their present contracts and can see the need for it now. They use a traditional design-bid-build approach and don’t offer an integrated design-build one. They are oppressed by the EU rules and thought that our Framework concept was an ingenious way to circumvent some of the difficulties the rules create. They found NEC3 to be both dauntingly long and bureaucratic. We discussed Sir John Egan’s 1998 recommendation to stop tendering to find the price for a design, moving to the car industry approach of choosing supply partners for suitability, setting performance and cost goals and then designing a solution together. Integrated Project Insurance finally enables that model.

The committee was particularly challenged by the idea that their 1990s contracts could not simply be replaced by a 2010s model for the next 20 years. A plan for the longer term was needed, to respond to new ways of providing space for society which are emerging. Their task had seemed a big one. Now it seemed a very big one.

Note: Blog posts are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of JCT.