1st April Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

No matter what industry you work in, there are always disputes, and our industry is no different.
The results of the third National BIM Survey (NBS) survey into construction contracts and related legal issues has cemented what we already knew- disputes are a part of our everyday working life.
Respondents included members of more than 20 industry bodies, who shared their legal and contractual experience of the last 12 months to provide an overarching view of the construction industry.
So, although disputes are consistent, the reason for such is ever changing. During the recession and tougher times the lack of work and low-value contracts only being made profitable through disputes was to blame, which is more than understandable, but now that construction output is stronger than ever, disputes don’t seem to be going away.
When asked in 2012, 90 per cent of respondents thought the number of disputes had increased or stayed the same as the last time they were asked, and four years later, the figure remains the same.
Almost half of those who responded to the survey said they had to deal with at least one dispute last year, with most (76 per cent) disputes occurring between clients and main contractors or between the main contractor and subcontractor (29 per cent). Although the severity of the dispute isn’t mentioned, disputes whether large or small have the potential to ruin relationships and disrupt projects.
I know sometimes you can’t avoid a dispute, but there are ways of reducing the severity or solving the issue, and surprisingly, the results actually gave us some promising news! 62 per cent of respondents had been involved in collaborative working in the last year, with 81 per cent believing it helped with information sharing and therefore reducing the number of disputes.
The main cause of arguments in the recent survey was found to be over the value of final accounts and the extension of time on projects – both of which could easily be resolved through collaborative working. Believe it or not, some simple communication can solve a lot of our problems.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) was introduced to address one of the major barriers to collaborative working – the lack of clear definition of responsibilities. The report suggests that the legal framework needs to evolve to recognise and accommodate the changes BIM has brought. As of November last year, only 14 per cent of those taking part in the survey had BIM fully integrated into contracts, which has hopefully dramatically increased given that the Level 2 BIM mandate goes live from Monday.
NBS has previously conducted this survey across many years, when economic climate was very different on each occasion, yet the resulting themes remain the same: the need for collaboration, the damaging effect of disputes and the often adversarial character of construction. So, although we’ve come on leaps and bounds in many aspects, there’s still a lot of work to be done to reduce disputes, and I strongly believe focusing on collaborative working is a strong place to start.