Leading QS slams cost-cutting culture

Michael C Hastie

ONE of Scotland’s most experienced quantity surveyors has lamented the way in which the construction industry has allowed itself to become “cost and fee driven”.

Aberdeen-based Michael C Hastie, who has headed up his own practice for 40 years, believes the way projects are procured has led to architects, quantity surveyors and civil engineers “scrabbling for fees”, resulting in a poorer service.

Mr Hastie made his remarks in response to comments by architect Alan Dunlop in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in the previous issue of Project Scotland.

Mr Dunlop called for a return to more traditional building contracts following the fatal fire and said the role of the architect in a design team had been “marginalised”.

Mr Hastie said the tendering of fees is a “recipe for disaster” that has “driven the professions involved to the brink over the past 20 years”.

He told Project Scotland, “Everybody trims everything to the bone in order to achieve the contract, and in trimming it to the bone you have to affect the level of service you give.

“The dilution of the service results in errors, mistakes and the product not being suitable.

“In order to get the job you have to be competitive; now, competitive doesn’t mean competitive in quality, it means competitive in price and that is where the customer always lets himself down.

“He looks at the bottom line, he doesn’t take into account, I believe, the true cost of cutting the fee, which is that the service will go down.”

Mr Hastie continued, “The architect ends up working for the contractor, not the client, so the architect will specify what the contractor can afford to put on the job, to reflect the price for the overall contract, not what the client wants to see, and that’s where it all falls down.

“In the old team, the architect was the specifying officer and the supervising officer and his word was law.

“If he didn’t like the brickwork, it came down; if he didn’t like the concrete work, it was lifted; if he didn’t like the window, it was sorted because he was the architect who signed it off in terms of workmanship and quality.

“They’re no longer relying on the architect’s expertise in terms of detail, quality, design and specification, or the same from the engineer and the QS.

“They’re relying on what they can get into the budget to secure the price they’ve been accepted upon.

“I think people, particularly in the private sector, have got to try and associate the quality of what they’re looking for in the end product with what they’re paying to get it.

“They look upon the architect, engineer and QS as a necessary evil, rather than a major contributor to the end product.”

Mr Hastie believes the client has to reassert their position and insist on the correct materials being used.

“We should go back to being unafraid of saying, ‘No, we have got the specifications, we have done the homework and this is the product we want to use on our building, you go and source it from the cheapest source but it has to be the same product’.

“We should be proud enough to build a house that we would each be happy enough to live in ourselves and sell it on the market, and that ethos has gone, I’m afraid.

“It’s sad to see but that’s what’s happening.”