JCT Interviews…John Littler

In this series we shed some light on some of the key people who are involved with or give their time to support JCT, to ensure that all areas of the construction industry are represented and can contribute to the development of our contracts. We will look at how our interviewees contribute to JCT specifically, and gain their views on JCT’s wider role within the industry.

BSc. Dip.Adj. MRICS ACIArb.
Founder and owner, Q-Consult
Construction Consultants
RICS representative, JCT Council

John Littler came into the industry at the age of 18 under a traditional “pupilship”, as a trainee QS with John Laing Construction (as it was then). His 13 years in contracting provided valuable practical experience of negotiating and administering main contracts and sub-contracts, mostly JCT forms.

In 2001 John decided to turn to consulting, at first forming a new partnership but then setting out on his own with his practice, Q-Consult, based in the North West. He provides commercial and contractual advice, as well as dispute resolution services, to his contractor and sub-contractor clients.

John is dual qualified as a chartered quantity surveyor and chartered project management surveyor. In 2018 he added a Diploma in Construction Adjudication to his other professional qualifications and has his sights set on becoming an adjudicator.

JCT: John, how did you first come to be involved with JCT? Why do you think it is important to be involved?

JL: From early in my career I’ve had a particular interest in contracts – colleagues and clients have pointed out that it’s bordering on “un-healthy” – so in 2010 when I saw that the RICS was advertising for someone to join its Contracts Steering Group I immediately applied. I was invited to join that Group, which also included the three RICS representatives on JCT Council.

The Group received copies of the JCT Council minutes so that it could feed into its Council Representatives, and I became familiar with the matters that Council dealt with. In 2015, one of the RICS representatives stood down from Council and, with the support of the other two, Chris Linnett and John Riches, the RICS gave its approval to me taking the vacant position.

JCT: Can you tell us about any specific work you’re currently doing with JCT (e.g. any work with working groups/committees)?

JL: For me, the most interesting part of being on Council is the opportunity to see, consider and comment upon new drafting, as it moves from Drafting Sub-Committee to approval through Council. One of the largest new drafts to be worked on since the 2016 Edition has been the development of a Target Cost Contract. As well as the usual discussions over specific drafting there has been an interesting debate between the Colleges on one or two key principles, with advanced argument and reasoning being put forward by those with opposing views. That is the fascinating thing about JCT and the various Colleges represented on Council – from those opposing views the right balance always seems to be found.

JCT: Do you have any personal career highlights?

JL: During my time at Laing I worked on many interesting and varied large projects but, as a Consultant providing dispute support, the real highlights come from watching the stress and confusion lifting from a client’s face as you break own their problem and start to piece together a strategy to fix it.

Most of my contracting days were spent working with JCT contracts, learning how to apply, operate and administer them. Much of my time as a consultant has been spent dealing with contractual problems and the disputes that arise from them. Involvement with JCT offers an opportunity to feed that experience back into the development of future contracts and I hope to become more involved with the Drafting Sub-Committee.

JCT: What are you most proud of about the construction industry as a whole and where do you think it most needs to improve?

JL: Each building project is rarely the same as the last one that you worked on. You usually have to deal with different designs, different locations, a new site team, new consultants and new sub-contractors for each project. It is not like running a widget factory – you don’t get time to test out subtle and slight changes to see if the widget quality is improved, or its cost reduced. You have to get it right, first time, and often at speed. To do that you have to be an excellent listener and communicator, pay attention to detail, be able to plan carefully, but also adapt and think on your feet. I’m proud to work amongst those people within the industry who fit that specification – they get the job done properly and efficiently, despite each project being a new challenge.

Where we need to improve is that there are too many within the industry who do not meet that specification.

JCT: What do you see as the main challenges for the construction industry over the next five years?

JL: The Latham Report, some 25 years ago, quite rightly opened the industry’s eyes to the need for greater collaboration. That has been echoed in further reports, strategies and reviews since then and great steps have been made, but we are not there yet. The attitudes of people working in the industry is still a huge barrier.In my experience there remains a large proportion of people, at all levels in the industry, who have not yet come to realise the benefits of proper collaboration or who just cannot avoid stepping back into their trench when the going starts to get tough.

The challenge lies in training, not just to change those attitudes but to achieve the highest professional standards that we can. Improving the attitudes and standards of professionals already in the industry has an obvious direct and immediate impact, but it also improves the wider image of those professions and helps to draw in a higher calibre of candidates to become the professionals of the future.

JCT: Does JCT have a wider role to play in the industry beyond producing contracts?

JL: Using a JCT form of contract gives parties comfort that they have engaged on a well drafted, even-handed standard form. Its long period of development and historic legal “testing”, along with its familiarity in the industry, significantly reduces uncertainty of interpretation. Yet there are still those parties and individuals who adopt the “put it in the bottom drawer” approach and go on to manage their project on what they consider to be good practice or “the way we’ve always done it”.

JCT already provides training, helping users to understand that the contract should be used as a tool kit or rule book with which to run and manage a project. That is an area where I believe JCT can bring real benefits. By improving the skills of those who prepare project documentation, and widening the knowledge and understanding of those who then operate and administer those contracts, JCT could really make a difference. A well drafted contract, properly operated, will go a long way to providing for a smoothly run project.