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 ..how'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.