Thursday, 19 December 2013

When not to call Plod in

There's a confused piece in the Grauniad this morning by Felicity Lawrence asking why Plod isn't dealing with inflated contractor claims by Serco and G4S, gangmasters and Libor-fiddling banks. She also complains that the supermarket industry, the prime victim of the horsemeat swindle, has imposed its own justice on the rogue meat processors by new contracts that screw down prices and define quality so rigidly that the meat barons will be seriously impoverished. Or rather, since it was the Mafia that benefited, Tesco 1 Cosa Nostra 0. 

There's a mix here, and a question of where to draw the line dividing crime from sharp commercial practice. Felicity has clearly never worked in the Construction industry. 

As Employer's Agent, I'm currently dealing with a pile of applications from various contractors. Quantity Surveyors these days have fallen sharply in quality and can no longer be relied on to effectively audit a contractor's claim. So I go through them myself. In the past few months I've struck-out claims for millions based on deliberate dishonesty. Apart from over-claiming on measured items (and these days I quite enjoy rousing the indolent QS from his warm office to go and count bricks in a new wall somewhere) there are the accidental-on-purpose arithmetical errors, false claims e.g. for plant, where detailed scrutiny of the tickets reveal this to have been used on a different site or at a different time, or falsely recorded daywork labour inputs, and simple 'creative' claims for costs that are simply not due under the form of contract. One despairing director looked at my pages of red ink and sighed "It's the only industry where contractors can get away with lying". 

Except that no-one in the industry classes it as lying. It's a game, with rules. They submit inflated claims, our side scrutinise them and reduce them. If we miss anything, it's our fault. And now with bored low quality QSs working for LLPs only interested in their fee (still mostly based, incredibly, on a %age of the certified contract value's that for an incentive to reduce valuations?) it's become much easier for contractors. 

And no-one in the industry would even think about referring any of this to Plod. Like Tesco, we deal with particularly egregious offenders ourselves. Word quietly goes about "Be careful if you're thinking about giving Bloggs plc a job; they're under-tendering and have just taken a £2.4m hit on their last job".

So when at the end of this week we all shut down for the Christmas break, and you're delighted by those twinkling Christmas lights decorating the boom of your neighbourhood tower crane, remember that next year when they claim for 6,000 LED lights, four 6kVA transformers and 185 hours of electricians at £86/hr some poor sod like me is going to have to argue it out.


Nick Drew said...

all these pragmatic points taken, Mr R, and more power to your overworked elbow

but the Graun writer has a point, too. A critical moment in this slippery descent was when plod announced that he would no longer be interested in hearing about cases of financial crime relating to bank accounts etc: they were to be sorted by the banks themselves (which, since most such crimes are insider jobs, means paying compo and sweeping the matter under the carpet)

we can rehearse the oh-so-neat logic for this abject, ultra-convenient institutional abrogation - but it's a chilling development nonetheless

I don't think we can easily map out the full implications of a wold where plod absents himself systematically from the site of inconvenient wrongdoings and leaves the protagonists to 'sort things out'. Sometimes it will work nicely but mostly, of course, there will be a gross disparity in 'resources' between victim and perp

in England we have enjoyed, since Henry II, the model of the King's Justice being meted out by officers of the Crown: there have been many ages when this was most imperfectly executed, but the model remained unchanged (including under the Commonwealth) and was the basic principle under which we have lived

to see plod slinking away to the comfort of the front seat of a BMW 5-series to concoct random 'crime statistics', and inviting the Law of the Jungle to substitute ... well, it's what happens on sink estates but that's hardly a recommendation

we mauy be in for some very bracing Nietzschean times

Raedwald said...


I don't disagree with the principle.

1979 was a watershed year; prior to then, the Royal Colleges regulated health care quality, the City 'establishment' regulated banking and finance, partners in professional firms with unlimited liability regulated themselves, the Law Society and the Bar Council were harsh, as was the ACA (A school chum's accountant father was struck off for fiddling a tax claim; at the same hearing, an accountant who had murdered his wife was suspended for six months for unprofessional conduct). As we swept away all the old restrictions to allow unfettered economic expansion, the whole thing became like the Wild West.

Plod didn't touch it because they never had - they hadn't and haven't the skills or knowledge. Criminal law didn't catch up to replace private and professional regulation, and at the same time personal liability went down the pan. That's the mess we now have to deal with.

I don't reckon there's much point in trying to upskill Plod to read intuitively a balance sheet or a bill of quantities - and the alternative, of giving police powers to specialist State sector-regulators, is frankly frightening.


Anonymous said...

I'm a former academic construction engineer who has done a lot of Expert Witness work, and believe me, you are only reporting the top of the iceberg. You want to see some of the claims made in the civil courts. This is compounded when an insurer settles a set of over-inflated contractor's claims for say 50% (£4M instead of £8M) then takes on suing someone - sometimes their consulting engineer partner. Then they don't even have a clue what they bought for their £4M. Who benefits? Legal costs, now inflated by CFAs often far outweigh the sums genuinely at stake.
I was going to rant about what Plod actually does, but my blood pressure can't stand it!

English Pensioner said...

I remember years ago, a friend of mine was involved with checking deliveries for the Thames barrier construction. He said that if the drivers' dockets were to be believed, some of the trucks delivering gravel must have been travelling at well over 100mph to get in the number of deliveries that they said they were making each day!

Anonymous said...

If the police can pick and chose which crimes they investigate then we, as way of compensation, should be able to mete out punishment for transgressors as we see fit.

Only fair, innit?

Votefor said...

This is where we are , dishonesty rules top to bottom , as long as electorates believe that someone else is paying then they don't care. Credit to you for exposing fraud where you find it but beware , it's endemic , we now need it. (subtext , we don't need you)