A1 Flues
A1 Flues


Specification or cost: Which is most important?

A1 Director John Hamnett's article in the latest edition of Construction News asks the question, specification or cost: which is most important?

Here's the article in full.

Only a few years ago, the products or suppliers that were included in the specifications for a construction project were invariably the ones that were used. I understand that things had to change, and the introduction of the Bribery Act in 2010 has been a good thing for our industry – but I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

Specifications are there for good reason. In the case of commercial flue and chimney systems, they are supposed to be specified in line with current British and EU standards. As a quick reminder, flue and chimney systems must be CE Marked – and it just so happens that we remain the only company in the UK to achieve this for a complete system.

Sadly, cost has become king – even at the expense of specifications. In our industry, we have experienced situations where a CE-Marked system was specified for a project but we knew that the ‘winning’ bid for the new system to be installed was not fully compliant.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a case of sour grapes. We’re big boys who have been doing this for 45 years, but it sticks in the throat when you provide a quote for a £350,000 system that is fully CE Mark compliant – and you lose to a tender that is for £100,000 cheaper. There’s no way that the winning bid can be fully compliant with the specification.

We were able to sharpen our pencil on the overall quote, but you can’t tell me that the contractor didn’t ask how or why the winning tender could be so much cheaper. It may well be partially compliant – and that’s probably good enough justification for the project contractor making a £100,000 saving.

Recent events have brought into sharp focus the scale of tragedies that can occur, and the trial by media has started, with both the materials used in construction projects and the genuine robustness of building regulations in the dock.

In our capacity as an industry expert witness, we have attended projects where the flues have failed – even though they supposedly met specification. The simple truth is that they didn’t meet specification for a number of reasons – such as the thickness of stainless steel sections of flues and joints. And, unless a quantity surveyor (QS) knows the CE Mark framework inside out, they won’t be able to spot the flaws in the paperwork because we’ve seen lots of cases of inaccurate or even counterfeit CE Mark certification.

Let’s face it: main contractors will have little or no idea if the sub-contractor has pulled the wool over their eyes and skimped on the quality or compliance of materials. Although the devil is in the detail, it’s understandable that some QSs haven’t got the time or inclination to find out.

But there’s always a big clue in the price, and the old adage says “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.