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Collaborative contracts don’t always work

December 29, 2014

At this time of year when many preach a message of good will, it seems appropriate to reflect on collaborative contracts, which surely reflect this benign spirit.

Those who have followed the news from the UK in recent days may be aware of major travel problems on the rail network. Engineering work caused chaos for travelers to and from London. Network Rail, the public body with overall responsibility, is being loudly criticized. This incident follows on the heels of a damning report by the rail regulator, issued just 2 weeks ago, which highlighted persistent delays, cost overruns and poor service delivery.

The reason I am highlighting this story is because Network Rail is reputed to have moved to the use of collaborative contracts, which ought to be generating improved visibility and oversight. Yet according to the regulator “poor access to crucial data means it is reacting to problems on the network┬áinstead of anticipating and fixing them early”. On the surface, it seems like the problems this weekend are more of the same, where a mass of interdependent contractors simply were not coordinating or communicating effectively.

Since IACCM is not actively involved with Network Rail, I have no insight to the form of collaborative contract that is being used (though I believe it is the NEC3 standard), nor what specific terms have been incorporated. But I will we watching with interest as this post-mortem unfolds and trying to understand whether the elements we consider essential were included in the contract. But of course, just having the right clauses is not enough – the question then is whether anyone acted on them and was actively managing the complex network of relationships on which such major projects depend.

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