This month we have seen further announcements on price rises, whilst at the same time we can see in the latest tender price reports from MACE showing that current tender price inflation is running at just 1.5% at the moment and expected to rise to a meagre 2.0% next year.  It doesn’t take mensa maths to work out what this is doing to margins.  Whilst we try and get our heads round the fact that despite rising costs of labour and materials and a healthy pipeline emerging prices are being squeezed in this way, we have updated our headline and supporting guidance on managing your business in a time of shortage below.

Talk to your clients about the challenges in securing material and the importance of early appointment to give you time to prepare.

Be wary of design liability. It is also vital to consider the specification, switching elements because you can secure them as an alternative may not necessarily support full certification and warranties as a system, to fulfil programmes.  Any change to materials and products installed should be EQUAL AND APPROVED or you may be absorbing risk and design liability.  Beyond inadvertent design liability, we are also seeing (for a combination of reasons, not least cost and availability of insurance) pressure on subcontractors to take on design liability within their contract.  Do you fully understand what is the liability and cost of this, does your insurance cover it?  We strongly urge you to exercise caution.

Before accepting a contract, make sure you can fulfil it.  It is vital to check you can secure the material and at what price, does your supply agreement guarantee a price?

Double check your estimates. With pricing erratic, double check your maths – estimations need to be on point and there is literally little margin for error.  Make sure you state that the quotation is only valid for a short amount of time, and that it is dependent on material supply (do you need to update statements on estimates, quotes and to issue new advice to your team?).  If you are trimming supervision to make the maths work, what could be the risk and cost in terms of quality and safety?

Consider the resilience of your supplier, how long have you worked with them, how well do you know them, how important are you to them, how confident are you they will deliver?  There is some support and guidance on this in the FIS Project Risk Assessment Tool.

Consider the resilience of your customer, through FIS you can get free credit checks.  This isn’t a panacea, but we have seen a number of failures in the construction sector and if margins continue to squeeze there will be more.  In the wake of the burden of retentions and aggressive tendering meaning profits will be lost and won in variation and change – will you get paid, how much and just how contractual is this job likely to be at that price?

Be realistic. Before signing a contract with potentially onerous delay responsibilities ensure you have checked these carefully, are all these risks in your control to manage?  If you are already locked into a contract and experiencing delays/inflation then look to your contracts and follow the process – remember it is likely that, regardless of blame and responsibility, you will be obliged to ensure that as soon as it becomes “reasonably apparent” that work is likely to be delayed, notice must be given to the relevant party.  If prices are spiralling, talk to your customer, negotiate.

Check for damages.  If you are yet to sign, it is well worth ensuring that supply related delays that will in many cases be beyond your control cannot be a factor in determining liquidated damages.  Remember force majeure relies on events being unforseeable.

Dust off those fluctuation clauses.  Before you sign a contract check the fluctuation clauses too (albeit they typically seem to be scratched out of the standard contracts).  If you cannot negotiate a shared risk approach with your client (and we are getting reports that clients are starting to accept fluctuations), you need to seriously consider pricing in risk moving forwards – what could worse case scenario mean to your business if prices drifted?

FIS has updated advice in its Contractual and Legal Toolkit, including advice on fluctuations, managing delays and extensions of time within contracts.  It also highlights the role that the RICS developed and CLC endorsed Conflict Avoidance Process and Conflict Avoidance Pledge can play in helping to ensure issues related to shortage and availability doesn’t flair up in unnecessary conflict and exacerbate a difficult situation to a crisis.

Material Shortages

The finishes and interiors sector is facing unprecedented material shortages and inflation in a number of areas (including gypsum products, steel, fixings, insulation, sealants and adhesives and timber).