Value is more than money | Ambar Kelly
Ambar Kelly

Value is more than money

February 24 2021

The term ‘value’ is becoming a bit of a dirty word in the construction industry. Dame Judith Hackitt famously called for an end to ‘value engineering’ a couple of years ago, proclaiming that the approach offers anything but value and instead puts quality in real jeopardy. Two years on and Dame Judith’s words have not materialised into forms of action. The industry is still failing to see that value is so much more than money and doesn’t want to recognise that cost doesn’t necessarily equate to value. But why is this the case? Why does construction put cost on a pedestal and how is this attitude neglecting equally important factors such as quality and safety

Whenever we humans are torn between buying one thing or the other, we can almost always make this complex decision quicker by selecting a cheaper product. This rationale, if you can call it that, is fine for selecting food produce during the weekly shop, but far less effective nor practical when procuring products for large-scale construction projects where safety and quality outweigh cost. It is then shocking but not surprising to see that this mode of decision-making is practiced across the biggest programmes in the UK. I suppose it’s too obvious for me to say whether this is a problem or not.

PQSs and commercial managers are driven by cost; for them price is the fastest way to the bottom of any problem. They are under pressure to turn around a complete budget quickly. As a result of this demand, they will produce costings based on previous projects and will not consider other avenues, even though these choices might be preferable and ironically cheaper in the long run.

This unerring focus on cost – at the expense of everything else – is understandably causing huge ripple effects, particularly in terms of the riser zone design. PQSs are continuing to budget for GRP as opposed to modular steel riser flooring when they are ignorant of the fact GRP gratings with an Ortho or Iso resin readily burn and do not meet guidance and legislation. Uninformed budgetary decisions and poor procurement practices are having harmful effects on the design of a building.

Furthermore, the belief that GRP is cheaper is a wrong that needs to made right. Cheap products continue to be used because bad decisions and practices are not being questioned. The selection of these products stems from a lack of understanding and education on the PQSs and commercial team’s part, who are failing to see that the cheaper product is not always the most cost-effective. If something is cheap it is commonly known to be of lesser quality. So, why does it have a presence in construction, again?

On some projects the PQS-budgeted GRP has been removed and replaced with Ambar Kelly’s system RiserSafe, because quality-focused main contractors are aware GRP grating with an Ortho or Iso resin is a fire risk. The poor, uniformed decision to install the ‘cheaper’ GRP actually cranked up the cost of the project; a sum that would have been prevented if RiserSafe was used in the first instance.

Here, the issue isn’t so much to do with cost but a reluctance to consider a better perspective. Modular steel riser flooring may cost more from the outset, however when looking holistically at a project’s eventual cost this couldn’t be further from the truth. It beggar’s belief that the ‘cheaper’ GRP which readily burns is continually selected within the frame package silo, even though RiserSafe is actually the cheapest at the end of the project and can save build time by eight weeks. This is because the focus is on the hole and falls from height, when in fact the precedence should be on the entire project and potential effects on all trades – not just one.

Many PQSs will inform the client that it’s going to cost him or her X number of pounds to build a building, maintaining the mantra there will always be overspends as every project costs a little more than anybody thinks. Consequently, PQSs drill down through the detail and omit what they see as excessive costs, even though they may not have the technical skill to make this decision. Rarely do they consider any other options other than what they see is ‘cheapest’, and ignore the fact that the specifier’s solution will be cheaper and safer in the long run. PQSs are not realising the effects of their price pressure on fire safety as they say their job lies simply within the budgetary realm. It is one thing to make uninformed decisions, but to rationalise wrong ones and evade responsibility is a different thing completely.

The industry has been heavily cost-centric for many years, yet the change that the likes of Dame Judith are inciting is shifting this weight to quality and safety, rightly so. But the industry has a basic issue in terms of how it sees value and the effect this perception has on the products that are selected. Value is more than money. Cost-effectiveness stretches greater than the use of what is believed to be ‘cheaper’ products. The sooner the industry shifts the focus from entry to exit prices, cheap to quality, siloed-mentalities to holistic-thinking, the better and safer it will be for everyone.

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