Could do better

Disputes remain, partnering is slow, and traditional forms of contract still dominate. This survey from NBS shows the construction industry is in no hurry to change, says Adrian Malleson

The number of disputes in the UK construction industry has not reduced and despite government efforts partnering has still not been widely adopted. These are the key findings of a major new survey into contracts and legal issues undertaken by NBS, part of RIBA Enterprises.

Those providing responses to the NBS’s wide ranging questionnaire include contractors and clients, plus consultants with memberships of more than 20 industry bodies. Of the 1,000+ respondents, 92% said the number of disputes had either increased or stayed the same, with the state of the economy cited most frequently as the likely cause. 

These views are borne out by the fact that almost a quarter of those taking part in the survey had been involved in a dispute during 2011. Of these 86% were between the client and main contractor, the primary causes being extension of time and valuation of variations. 

Partnering is still not being widely used by the industry. In 2011, only 6% of those who took part used a form of partnering or alliancing, while more than a third were not involved in any form of collaborative working.

The survey also showed that traditional forms of contract (67%) still dominate, with single stage competitive tendering the most widely used (78%). In today’s technology-dominated environment, more than 40% of consultants and clients use no electronic tendering at all.

The research also highlighted ongoing use of bespoke contracts rather than standard forms. Although standard contracts are still used, almost a quarter of projects undertaken by those questioned used bespoke documentation. 

Given that 20 years ago, the Latham report concluded: ‘Endlessly refining existing conditions of contract will not solve adversarial problems. Public and private sector clients should begin to phase out “bespoke” documents’, this appears to be a lesson not yet fully learned.

See the NBS National Construction Contracts and Law Survey 2012 at

Adrian Malleson is NBS research and analysis manager