The UK Government’s Construction Playbook has 14 key policies for reforming and modernising aspects of public sector projects (and perhaps, with luck and trickle down, the private sector too). However, it will need some robust contract tools to bring those ideas to fruition.

In a series of posts, I consider how contracts will need to change to adequately respond to the Playbook’s policies or themes.

Standard or Flexible?

Standard is referred to a whopping 70 times in the 83 pages of the Playbook. It looks at standards relating to:

  • Designs, products, components and interfaces
  • Demand
  • Generating and classifying data (using the UK BIM Framework)
  • Frameworks (and a new ‘gold standard’ for best practices and the Playbook’s policies)
  • Risk of insolvency and tests for financial risk
  • Shared requirements and common project standards
  • Functional requirements
  • Contract terms.

We all know, as the Playbook helpfully points out that “standardised contracts or standardised contract terms can be used to help simplify and speed up procurement procedures.” Whilst it recommends selecting a standard construction contract from the JCT, NEC or PPC/FAC-1 suites, together with standard boilerplate clauses where needed, the Playbook doesn’t explain how those contracts actually meet the 14 policies.

It does recommend that you “ensure that the contract terms are not unintentionally limiting innovation, sustainable supply chains or investment in MMC.

What does that mean for contracts?

What do we want? Standard contracts!

What should they provide? Collaboration, openness, transparency and flexibility!

Sorry… you want standardisation for speed and efficiency, but also individualisation for each project? You want no changes to the usual terms, but innovation from your supply network? You want to push the boundaries of construction, but stick with contracts dating back to the 19th century (in origin)?

It seems to me that the themes of the Playbook require innovative modern methods of contracting, based around a standard framework. But if we try and weave modern methods into existing contracts we are likely to end up with a mongrel that suits no-one.

The impact of the Playbook on contracts requires revolution, not tinkering at the edges.

What should you do?

Beware standard clauses and contracts for modern methods of working and innovative projects. If you put the same old things into a contract, you get the same old results back out.

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