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The impact of an economic recession

Abstract

Purpose - The aim of this report is to evaluate the impact of an economic recession on the current tendering practices of UK contractors.

Design/methodology/approach - An extensive literature review of the topic was undertaken to form the research hypothesis and a number of research questions. This was further developed through two interviews with industry specialists which formed the basis for cognitive mapping which when mapped can then assist in forming a questionnaire. A pilot study was conducted and upon receiving positive feedback the questionnaire survey was completed.

Key findings - The results show that clients and contractors are reverting back to type and that the advances made by the Latham and Egan reports has stalled as price has become more important than quality once again. Public sector contracts have been observed to offer considerable opportunities for contractors as the client has a triple A rating and the projects are typically long term which can help contractors to survive the recession.

Implication for practice - The construction industry cannot obstruct change but needs to embrace it and adopt and improve existing practices which can benefit all the stakeholders. Comparable to the Latham and Egan reports, a new report needs to be completed which can aid the construction industry so that the effects of this recession are felt for the shortest time possible.

Originality/value - The literature review and cognitive mapping provide a detailed insight into the topic but due to time constraints the quantitative analysis does not contain an adequate amount of responses to be relied upon.

1. Introduction

The construction industry is constantly evolving as a result of; a levelling of the trade cycle, methods of placing contracts, increased emphasis on quality, experience and innovations, increased competition among firms and a change in clients buying behaviour (Yisa, Ndekugri & Ambrose, 1996).

In addition to the changing attitudes of clients in construction which was promoted by the Latham and Egan reports the economic climate has brought additional difficulties to the industry. Clients have become more advanced and are continually seeking improvements within the industry to meet there needs. They have also realised that during difficult times, they can use their dominance to acquire a better deal (Woods & Ellis, 2005, pp.321).

This report presents a study aimed at evaluating the impact of an economic recession on current tendering practices of UK contractors. The hypothesis of this research is;

"That the construction industry has adapted and improved in the last number of decades but will have to continue to do so in the face of new challenges".

The research questions include;

  1. What are the main factors considered by contractors when deciding to tender and how does an economic recession alter these? e.g. Below cost tendering.
  2. How can lean construction, partnering and supply chain integration be used in construction to add value?
  3. How has a change in procurement methods been used to improve tendering practices in construction?

It was decided to combine qualitative and quantitative research methods in order to receive a greater understanding of the topic. The approach employed is that qualitative research facilitates quantitative research by providing a hypothesis or assists measurement by suggesting questions (Oyedele, 2009).

The hypothesis was established through reading relevant journals and this was developed further through carrying out two interviews which when mapped assisted in forming a questionnaire. This questionnaire was completed by a number of industry personnel in order to facilitate further analysis through factor analysis which followed on to regression analysis.

The report provides a detailed analysis of relevant literature aswell as two detailed interviews with industry specialists. Due to time constraint however the quantitative analysis was limited to fewer questionnaires than would have been liked so the results are helpful but not to the standard that would be required for this report to be become significant to industry.

A future quantitative analysis is recommended in order to make use of the work to date and complete the research.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Tendering Practices

The construction industry has evolved greatly in the last number of decades and this has been mostly due to changes in the economy and how the construction industry and others viewed it. There was an obvious need for change following previous recessions and a common agreement that the industry was failing to meet all the stakeholder's needs.

2.1.1 Construction Industry Reports

The different reports which have been published in an attempt to improve the construction industry and consequently tendering practices are discussed by Cooke & William's and shown below in Figure 2.1. (Cooke & Willams, 2009, pp.5).

Naoum (2003, pp.72) highlights the Egan report which was published in 1998 and how it compares the construction industry to that of the 1960's manufacturing industry. This theme of the construction industry lagging behind its industry counterpart is evident in not only tendering practices but many other aspects (Emmitt & Jorgensen, 2008).

Lathams (1994) main focus was that there needs to be a 'win-win' mentality between the client and the contractor whereas Egan (1998) focused on how quality and efficiency could be improved within the industry. This led to a more client focused approach which Oyedele & Tham (2005, pp.53) feel aided in creating a more integrated process within construction.

2.1.2 Changing Client in Construction

Awareness and competition between contractors has allowed the client to become more advanced and to seek improvements within the industry to meet there needs (Yisa, Ndekugri & Ambrose 1996, pp.51). The client has realised that during difficult times, they can use their dominance to acquire a better deal (Woods & Ellis, 2005, pp.321).

The largest client for the construction industry at present is undoubtedly the public sector and this is discussed by RICS in their third quarter report for 2009 when they use the headline, "Public sector workloads continue to support construction activity'', (RICS, 2009).

This fact was also noted by Naoum in 2003 when she noted that despite a decline in public spending the public sector was still the largest client, (Naoum, 2003). The changing face of the client can be traced back to the early 80's where there was a rapid privatization of government bodies such as the NHS, prison services, water services, schools, etc, (Yisa, Ndekugri & Ambrose, 1996, pp.54).

These clients sought further changes in tendering practices as their emphasis was on speed, value based services and cost-time-quality performance and a move towards partnering (Langford & Fellows, 1993).

2.1.3 Current Tendering Practices

(Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer, 1999) discuss how tendering has transformed from the 1960's whereby private and public jobs were awarded solely on competitive tendering to a situation whereby a variety of issues are evaluated. There has been an industry wide shift from "lowest price wins" mentality to a "multi criteria selection".

Naoum (2003, pp.72) goes into further detail by outlining the disadvantages of using price-based competitive tendering. The traditional forms of contract have been adapted (JCT 98 standard form - JCT 2005) to accommodate change in the industry but the Latham report regarded the NEC contract as having the best potential for achieving a positive outcome for all the stakeholders, (Cooke & Willams, 2009, pp.7).

The change in procurement methods are shown in the late 90's in Figure 2.3 (Yisa, Ndekugri & Ambrose, 1996, pp.55). This change can be contributed to the need for a more integrated and less fragmented approach as the main contractor is managing both the design and construction activities and can promote contractor led innovation.

Risk, which is increasingly important in a recession is being shifted away from the client and towards the contractor under Design & Build and Private Finance Initiatives.

2.1.4 Decision to Tender

A contractor's decision to tender can greatly affect their balance sheet at the end of a year. Projects are becoming more expensive and time consuming to tender for and the factors which need to be considered are highlighted in Figure 2.4 (Cooke & Willams, 2009, pp83-86).

Hughes (2004) found that the average contractor will spend 3% of turnover on winning work. He also suggets that traditional competitive tendering is much more expensive than design and build as there is considerably more competition and a lower success rate.

Walwork (1999) argues that there is equal importance between "right project'' and "right price'' in order to make a profit. Kometa et al, (1996, pp.273) evaluate the need for the clients financial stability to be discussed in greater detail. They draw attention to the risk of late payments or client insolvency.

This point is highlighted by Shepherd (2009) when he states in a correspondence that;

"Undertaking such large tenders, where procurement costs are north of £5m, takes a lot of thought and consideration. The client will have to show, for example, that they are organised and appear to be an efficient procurement authority. In a recession we will become a more discerning bidder as cash is tighter and projects more sought after."

Happy to discuss more as is fit.

Cheers,

Andrew.

2.1.5 Below Cost Tendering

Whitten (2009) writing for Construction News explained how The Civil Engineering Contractors Association has warned of an emerging trend of firms pricing below cost.

They believe that for some organizations it is a matter of short term survival but that if it continues there will be an increase in disputes and a decline in investment in training and technology. Client and contractor relations have significantly improved in the last ten years but;

"will be stretched to breaking point if we see clients take advantage of the recession and of declining workloads to push for bargain base­ment prices."

Both Whitten (2009) and Scully (2009) argue the point that below cost tendering is unsustainable and will increase the risk of contractors facing insolvency. Reductions in material and plant costs have been exceeded by the drop in tender prices. Insolvencies are predicted to occur firstly among contractors who tender correctly but fail to win the contract and then among those who win the contract with unsustainably low bids (Whitten, 2009).

2.2 Impact of an Economic Recession on the Construction Industry

A recession impacts on every sector but none more so than the construction industry as it is relies on large capital expenditure for its lifeblood. This results in a reduction in the number of projects along with an increase in the cost of borrowing to repay loans and pay wages (Ren & Lin, 1996).

RICS reported recently on their website (1st October 2009) that tender prices for new construction work will not rise until 2011 and that pre-recession levels wont be seen in the next five years. It was noted that if public spending was cut it would have a detrimental effect on the construction industry.

2.2.1 Economic Recession in Construction

A recession can be caused by many factors but the underlying reason is high inflation. The construction industry is labour intensive and owing to union's demands for higher wages through government agreements, wages do not increase due to demand but social factors and move in one direction. This is the main cause of inflation in construction costs. Ren & Lin (1996) illustrate this relationship in Figure 3.1.1 for the last recession of the late 80's and early 90's.

The UK Government's policy has been to provide a fiscal stimulus by increasing spending on large public projects so as to inject money into the economy which will filter down through all sectors (McFall, 2008). Green (2009) forecasted that the recession will match up to the recession of the late 80's and early 90's but that it will recover quicker. Once again public spending is the underlining reason for the upturn but it is questioned whether the continuous spending can be sustained.

The logical relation between high inflation which causes a rise in borrowing costs and a reduction in construction investment and thus a fall in the construction cycle is shown below in Figure 3.1.2 (Ren & Lin 1996).

2.2.2 Lean Construction & Supply Chain Integration

Lean construction is an adaptation of lean industry which is used aggressively by large car manufacturers to great affect (Emmitt & Jorgensen 2008). It is particularly relevant in a recession as it can be used at every stage and its main focus is to eliminate waste from the production life cycle so that value is added to each process, leading to lower costs, shorter construction periods and greater profits (Cartlidge, 2002).

It is shown below in Figure 3.2 how lean construction can be applied to different sectors of the construction industry (Cooke & Willams, 2009, pp.105). Lean construction benefits tendering as it promotes innovation and off-site production which reduces over all costs and provides increased quality to the client.

Practices such as downsizing, out-sourcing, de-layering and re-engineering have been widely used within both construction company's and specific projects (Thorpe et. al., 1998). The use of sub contractors has increased as there is less overheads involved (Langford & Male, 1992). The benefits of partnering can be applied to co-contracting (main contractor-sub contractor) and supply chain integration (contractor-supplier), (Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer, 1999). This allows greater flexibility as both partners are working for a common goal and greater economies of scale can be achieved when tendering as contractors will have their own list of preferred suppliers or sub contractors which allows them to price new projects quickly and efficiently.

As suppliers account for such a high percentage of building costs their involvement at an early stage should be welcomed as they can contribute new ideas, products or processes (Cartlidge, 2002). Green & May (2005) propose that three models can be applied to the adoption of lean in construction: a lean model of waste elimination, partnering and structuring the context.

2.2.3 Partnering in Tendering

Partnering has been widely adopted in tendering in the last number of years as it offers the opportunity for improving the project outcome aswell as benefiting the whole supply chain (Dozzi et al., 1996; Larson and Drexler, 1997). It utilizes each participant's expertise and resources so that the required business objectives can be met or exceeded (Bennett & Jayes, 1998).

Cooke & Williams (2009, pp.45) highlight the crucial elements of partnering which are reproduced in Figure 3.3 and they note that without all these elements, it is not partnering but merely an alliance. Partnering follows on from the previous sections as continuous improvement is achieved through lean construction, innovation and learning, problem resolution is promoted through use of the NEC3 contract and finally mutual objectives relates to a contractors decision to tender which is extremely important so that the appropiate parties are working together.

The benefits to construction companies is that they can share the risk of tendering with another company who may otherwise be tendering against them and have expertise in a certain area which would otherwise have to be paid for. As highlighted previously, future spending in construction is heavily reliant on the public sector which following the Latham and Egan reports is trying to adopt a team-building approach which promotes partnering.

Due to the economic recession in UK construction, companies have been using partnering to expand into global markets which have not been as widely affected. In a bid to reduce risk most companies form local partnerships so as to utilize local knowledge as well as reducing the costs associated with labour transfers (Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer, 1999).

While a more open relationship now exists between the different participants of a construction project Wood & Ellis (2005, pp.324) estimate that it will still be some time before a fully genuine relationship exists as there is an engrained culture of mistrust and deception. Successful partnerships offer the opportunity for repeat work but the client must be assured that tenders remain competitive within the relationship of trust.

2.2.4 Strategic Tendering & Project Mix

Strategic tendering and project mix become even more crucial to a companies success during times of a recession. As the private sector feels the impact of a recession firstly and for a slightly longer period it is in a company's long term interest to carry out a more aggressive bidding policy towards the public sector (Ren & Lin, 1996). Another advantage of the public sector is its transparency and openness during the tender stage. While the public sector may be susceptible to mal-practice, construction companies know that they will be impartially assessed and receive feedback under new regulations (Statutotory Instrument, 2006).

Strategic planning can be very beneficial as it seeks to align a company in a certain direction. In todays climate contractors need to evalute the client when deciding to tender as many contractors have commenced work on a project only to instructed to withdraw as the funding has been restricted (Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer, 1999). A number of contractors have also begun to take on jobs at cost or even a loss in an effort to win work with the chance of repeat work. Also this keeps the company name in circulation and also to hold onto valued staff that might otherwise have to be made redundant.

Shepherd, the bid manager for Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is of the opinion that;

"Large procurement projects, such as BSF, lose some of the benefits of group procurement by being so expensive to procure. This creates a barrier to entry, which in some ways may affect the value in the procurement. The flip side is that for a contractor, you know you will be involved in a procurement process where you have a realistic chance of winning and that your scale delivers value".

2.2.5 Innovation & Learning in Construction

One of the most revolutionary changes in tendering has been the use of e-tendering which has been used most notably on the multibillion pound development for the Olympic Games in London 2012. Innovation in tendering can offer many advantages as it provide substantial resource savings to a major part of the supply chain, with the key benefits being enhanced communication, time savings and reduced costs (Stephenson & Tindsley, 2008). IT has aided smaller companies in allowing them to compete with their larger counterparts in certain areas. Thorpe et. all (1998) argue that construction has yet to receive the full benefit of IT advancements compared to other industries.

Due to the competitive culture in the construction industry, up until recently there has been a lack of "organisational learning" which promotes the sharing of knowledge and experiences between companies (Barlow & Jashapara, 1998). There has been very little research into organisational learning but Poyner and Powells (1995) report emphasised its importance in providing competitive advantage which is especially relevant in an economic recession.

3. Research Methodology

The research objective is to evaluate the impact of an economic recession on the current tendering practices of UK contractors. In order to receive a greater understanding of the topic we are combining qualitative and quantitative research methods. The approach employed is that qualitative research facilitates quantitative research by providing a hypothesis or assists measurement by suggesting questions (Oyedele, 2009).

The research hypothesis was established through reading relevant journals and this was developed further through carrying out two interviews with industry specialists which when mapped can then assist in forming a questionnaire. A pilot study was conducted and upon receiving positive feedback the questionnaire survey was completed.

Figure 3.1 Research Methodology.

The literature review was sourced in the Queens, university library from textbooks, databases, journals, magazines and the internet. This source was particularly valuable as it allowed the author gain instant access to a vast array of websites, on-line articles, publications, current news etc.

3.1 Unstructured Interview

Following on from the previous chapter, two unstructured interviews were completed by industry specialists. The main aim is to develop a greater understanding of the subject in addition to the literature review and to stumble upon any differences between the two. This type of interview has no set format beyond the opening question but the interviewer may have some key questions which they can use to keep the interviewee on the topic. The interviewer is receptive to the interviewee's responses and the interview follows a conversational style.

Both interviewees are employed by the largest privately owned construction company in the UK with offices also in India, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. The company has an integrated capability thus allowing a holistic view of construction.

The first interviewee is a project manager who has experience of tendering with Lagan and Farran construction and is currently working alongside NIW on a large PFI project valued at approximately £130 million.

The second interviewee is a bid manager for on the building schools for the future framework (BSF). He is leading a team on a project worth over £1 billion with a budget of £5.6 million.

3.2 Qualitative Research – Cognitive Mapping

Yin (1989) observes that in qualitative research the broadest question should be stated so that data can be drawn from a number of sources such as: archival records, direct observation, documents, interviews, participant observation and physical artefacts. Qualitative research is any kind of research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedures or other means of quantification (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). The interviews form the basis for the cognitive mapping and allow a greater understanding of the subject.

3.3 Quantitative Research – Questionnaire Survey

Creswell (2003) explained quantitative research methods are used to test or verify theories or explanations identify variables to study, relate variables in questions or hypotheses use statistical standards of validity and reliability, and employ statistical procedures for analysis. The next step was to formulate a preliminary questionnaire based on the main topics raised in the literature review and interviews and this was used to conduct a pilot study.

Slight modifications were made following the pilot study and a final questionnaire was produced which contains thirty eight factors that can be considered as significant in impacting on the tendering practices of UK contractors. In the questionnaire, the rating of the factors was done on a five point scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 represents "strongly disagree", and 5 represents "strongly agree". Respondents who had no opinion concerning the factors could select the answer of "indifferent".

The third section of the questionnaire will be used in our regression analysis and it involves establishing a relationship between the different factors of our analysis. The final section allows respondents to write additional comments on any outstanding issues which had not been brought up in the questionnaire but which they felt were important.

A total of forty one respondents replied to the questionnaire and despite this being lower than was wished, due to time constraints the statistical analysis had to be completed nonetheless. Shown below in Table 3.1 are the total number of respondents and a breakdown of their characteristics.

4. Qualitative Results and Analysis – Cognitive Mapping

Cognitive mapping allows the analysis of large amounts of qualitative information and can be used to structure messy or complex data for problem solving. It is especially useful as a note taking method during interviews and assisting the process by increasing the understanding of the subject (Ackermann et al., 1992).

Decision explorer is a tool which allows relationships to be pictured relating to a subject. Data entry is provided using "concepts", which capture the core aspects of a notion. The concepts are then linked to show the relationship and factors of importance between ideas (Brightman, 2002).

Figure 3.1 shows the three methods which can be used to question where a concept is leading towards. For the purpose of this analysis the method Action – Outcome was utilized as it was felt that it is best suited to exploring the subject and discovering the goals/outcomes. Once completed, debate and reflection can then follow on the most important factors which have been established.

4.4 Analysis & Discussion

Using the maps in the previous section the main factors can be discussed and their influence on other concepts.

4.4.1 Central Concepts Analysis

Central analysis reveals the concepts that have been linked the most times with other concepts and means that the concepts listed below have the greatest influence on the analysis. A central analysis was conducted and the following top five concepts were revealed:

  1. Change in Contractor & Client Attitudes
  2. 20 from 39 Concepts.

  3. Contractors Using below Cost Tendering
  4. 19 from 35 Concepts.

  5. To Remain Lean and Competitive During the Recession
  6. 15 from 31 Concepts.

  7. Economic Recession
  8. 14 from 32 Concepts.

  9. Increased Likelihood of Repeat Work
  10. 14 from 29 Concepts

All these top five concepts are directly related as the economic recession and change in attitudes has resulted in contractors using below cost tendering and lean construction to remain competitive during the recession with the increased likelihood of repeat work.

The main issue/driver mentioned in the interviews was the economic recession which as stated in my literature review impacts severely on the construction industry as there is a reduction in the number of projects along with the cost of borrowing to repay loans and pay wages increasing (Ren & Lin, 1996). This logical relation was explained in my literature review and is illustrated in Figure 4.1.

The change in attitudes from both the contractor and client was also discussed with Latham (1994) trying to adopt a "win-win" mentality and Egan (1998) focusing on improving quality and efficiency and creating a "movement for change". This change from the 1960's mentality whereby private and public jobs were awarded solely on competitive tendering to a situation whereby a variety of issues are evaluated (Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer, 1999) has put additional pressure on contractors forcing them to retain quality and project time but reduce their tenders to below cost if necessary.

Clients are having a greater participation and have requested a less fragmented approach which has resulted in a change of contracts to a more frequent use of design and build (Yisa, Ndekugri and Ambrose, 1996).

Interviewee No.2 feels that clients are manipulating the current climate in order to get the same quality of work done cheaper whereas Interviewee No.1 is of the opinion that it is the contractors who are quick to adopt below cost tendering in an effort to hold onto staff as other projects are completed.

The concept of remaining lean and competitive during the recession is extremely important and is discussed in great detail in my literature review. Cartlidge (2002) describes how lean construction eliminates waste so that value is added to each process, leading to lower costs, shorter construction periods and greater profits.

The concept of leanness incorporates reduced bid frequency as overheads need to be reduced. Walwork (1999) and Interviewee No.1 both stress the need for contractors to select the "right project" which will then give a greater chance of success. Innovation can reduce costs through "organizational learning" (Barlow and Jashapara, 1998) but both interviewees felt that as overheads need to be reduced innovation should come from your supply chain which have budgets for research and development. As discussed in my literature review suppliers involvement should be welcomed at an early stage so that they can contribute new ideas, products, or processes (Cartlidge, 2002).

Increased likelihood of repeat work was felt by Interviewee No.1 to come through partnering which allows a greater outcome for the whole supply chain (Dozzi et al., 1996; Larson and Drexler, 1997). A better outcome is achieved as the required business objectives can be met or exceeded (Bennett & Jayes, 1998). Interviewee No.2 felt that early involvement with the client allowed links to be established thus leading onto repeat work.

4.4.2 Domain Concepts Analysis

The domain analysis counts the highest number of links in and out of a concept and establishes connections with other issues within its immediate domain. It analyses local complexity but fails to examine the wider context of the subject. A domain analysis was conducted and the following top five concepts were revealed:

3 Increased public spending

4 Partnering and increased communication

5 To remain lean and competitive during the recession

The previous central results determined the concepts with the greatest influence on the entire map and therefore it follows that these should have the highest number of links.

Changes in attitudes, below cost tendering and lean construction were central to my literature review and interviews and this is why they have been highlighted here. The drivers for change are changing attitudes and below cost tendering with lean construction providing a number of strategies to improve through off-site manufacturing, innovative design and assembly, pre-fabrication, supply chain integration and pre-assembly (Cooke and Williams, 2009).

The government's policy of increased public spending was noted by both interviewees and McFall (2008) in my literature review as offering a company strategy to survive the economic recession. RICS (1st October 2009) reported that tender prices for new construction work will not rise until 2011 and that if the public spending was cut it would have a detrimental effect on the construction industry.

This is further supported in my literature review which states that strategic tendering and project mix is even more crucial during a recession. Ren and Lin (1996) judge that it is in a company's long term interest to carry out a more aggressive bidding policy towards the public sector. The issue of evaluating clients was emphasised by both interviewees as a number of private clients have simply wound up their projects. Both see the public sector as a safe bet for investment both in a boom and even more so in a recession as they possess a triple A rating by the rating agencies.

Partnering was touched upon by both interviewees but they had a different viewpoint with Interviewee No.1 feeling that it has opened a forum for communication and along with the new engineering contract there is a "win-win" mentality established as encouraged by the Latham report (1994).

Interviewee No.2 was sceptical however and felt that clients and contractors were both reverting to type with contractors using below cost tendering and looking for variations while client were manipulating the climate by ignoring frameworks in order to tender ever project and receive increased savings.

Woods and Ellis (2005) as mentioned in my literature review accepted that a more open relationship now exists but that it will take some time before a fully genuine relationship will be in place due to an engrained culture of mistrust and deception.

4.4.3 Cluster Analysis No.1 (Changes Resulting in Partnering & Increased

Communication)

As stressed in my literature review and illustrated below in Figure 4.2 the economic recession has caused an increase in public spending which along with a change in contractor and client attitudes has resulted in a "win-win" mentality, different procurement methods and therefore the use of partnering and increased communication which relates back to the Latham and Egan reports.

Another effect of the economic recession has been a reduced number of contracts which causes increased competition and a reduced frequency of bidding due to higher tendering costs (Cooke and Williams).

The final analysis revolves around contractors need to win work which along with the recession causes them to change their attitude and use below cost tendering which reduces staff numbers and increases the workload thus impacting on quality, environmental and H&S standards.

4.4.4 Cluster Analysis No.2 (Required Practices for Strong Company Position)

Both interviewees drew attention to increased exposure to risk which can cause a contractor to go bankrupt due to a lack of cash. The need to evaluate client financial stability was established in my literature review (Kometa et al., 1996).

Besides financial risk exposure there is also the risk associated with H & S, environmental and CSR which require investment so as to promote a favourable client and public perception which leads onto the goal of a strong company position.

The other analysis involves utilizing innovation to gain a competitive advantage which can be accomplished through lean construction and pressurising the supply chain which both interviewees feel have the research and development capabilities and budgets to supply new products thus allowing contractors to adopt their processes. Once again, this allows the company to remain lean by adopting required practices and to be in a strong position following the recession.

4.4.5 Cluster Analysis No.3 (Increased Likelihood of Repeat Work)

The final cluster analysis focuses on the goal of increased likelihood of repeat work and becoming the company of first choice which is part of the interviewee's company vision and both interviewees referred to it. It concentrates on the principle that construction is continually evolving and that contractors need to innovative and adopt so that stakeholders are satisfied.

It relates to a number of factors such as striving for a better outcome for both client and contractor and aligning your company towards the most advantageous sector through strategic project mix which many contractors see coming from PFI projects as they have a guaranteed source of income for a number of years.

4.4.6 Questionnaire Design

The questionnaire design was completed following the cognitive mapping and due to the extensive literature review most topics were touched upon previously. The stages involved in constructing a questionnaire include;

  1. Identifying the first thought questions.
  2. Formulating the final questionnaire.
  3. Wording of questions.

It was decided to use closed questions as they are quick to answer and their analysis is straightforward (Nachmias and Nachmias, 1996). One drawback however is that they may introduce bias as they can either force a respondent to choose replies which may not of otherwise have been selected. A total of forty questions were included in the questionnaires which were felt to offer an in depth analysis of the topic.

5. Quantitative Results and Analysis – Questionnaire Survey

Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) is a popular statistical and data management application for analysts and researchers used to present and analyse data arranged in a case-by-case structure. It is used in disciplines as diverse as chemistry, sociology, economics and psychology. Mostly it is used to analyze questionnaires through the use of correlation, factor analysis, cluster analysis and regression modelling.

5.1 Mean Testing

Shown below in Table 5.1 are the top five factors from our questionnaire with the highest mean with the complete table for all the factors available in the appendices. These factors are what the respondents felt were the most significant in impacting on tendering practices of UK contractors.

These factors have been highlighted both in the literature review and the interviews. As discussed by Whitten (2009) and Scully (2009) firms are pricing contracts at levels below cost in an effort to ensure short term survival. Scully (2009) describes how competition has become so fierce that contractors are bidding for work up to 20% below cost which is in agreement with interviewee No.2 who sees this as contractors "buying work". The majority of the respondents felt that this was the most significant contractors are content with breaking even during the recession.

The second factor which the questionnaire highlighted was that the lowest price not always representing the best value for money ties in with Latham (1994) and Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer (1999) who discuss how tendering has transformed from the 1960's whereby private and public jobs were awarded solely on competitive tendering to a situation whereby a variety of issues are evaluated. There has been an industry wide shift from "lowest price wins" mentality to a "multi criteria selection".

Interviewee No.1 discussed how client's have realised that the "lowest tender price" is not always the cheapest in the long term as sometimes safety, quality and environmental aspects are in short supply. This could leave the client with a tarnished reputation if something unforeseen occurs due to reduced staffing or controls.

The third factor of the increase in exposure to risk for contractors is related to below cost tendering which both Whitten and Scully (2009) argue the point that it is unsustainable and will increase the risk of contractors facing insolvency.

Reductions in material and plant costs have been exceeded by the drop in tender prices. Insolvencies are predicted to occur firstly among contractors who tender correctly but fail to win the contract and then among those who win the contract with unsustainably low bids (Whitten, 2009). Interviewee No.2 discussed how the public bodies which he works with have seen a 20% fall in tender prices which they happily go out and procure only for the contractor to go bust due insufficient cash flow.

There is an increased requirement for contractors to analyze the issue of deciding to tender before any resources are allocated as projects are becoming extremely costly to tender for. Walwork (1999) argues that there is equal importance between "right project'' and "right price'' in order to make a profit. Kometa et al, (1996, pp.273) evaluate the need for the clients financial stability to be discussed in greater detail.

They draw attention to the risk of late payments or client insolvency which both interviewees highlighted as being important and that there firm always evaluates the client and where there financing is coming from. This is why they have seen a shift towards public sector projects which have a high credit rating.

The fourth factor was the increase in competition for the available contracts which as discussed in the literature review by RICS (2009), tender prices are continually falling due to the increased competition for the low levels of projects. It was noted that if public spending was cut it would have a detrimental effect on the construction industry.

Both interviewees discussed how the economic recession has caused a reduction in available financing which has meant less work available with additional competition for contractors who previously wouldn't have tendered for such projects.

Finally the issue of squeezing the supply chain was found by the respondents and interviewee No.2 as a way of achieving a reduction in the tender price. As suppliers account for such a high percentage of building costs their involvement at an early stage should be encouraged as they can contribute new ideas, products or processes (Cartlidge, 2002). Suppliers can also offer contractors innovative products which allow them to adopt old practices so that money can be saved.

5.2 Factor Analysis

Factor analysis is a technique for identifying groups or clusters of variables (Field, 2005). Its main uses include;

  1. To understand the structure of a set of variables.
  2. To construct a questionnaire to measure an underlying variable.
  3. To reduce a data set to a more manageable size while retaining as much of the original information as possible.

Following the factor analysis on the data, we will then test the data for its suitability for factor analysis, the extraction of the factors, the rotation of the factors and finally label each group of factors that the factor analysis will give us.

5.2.1 The Test for Suitability of Data for Factor Analysis

The test for suitability of the data set for factor analysis involves determining the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy and Bartlett's test sphericity. The test indicates the strength of the relationship among variables and provides a minimum standard that should be passed for a factor analysis. Shown below in Table 5.2 are the values and ratings for the KMO.

The list of factors was inputted from excel into SPSS and the factor analysis was performed but failed to provide a KMO value or Bartlett's test of sphericity. The following two factors which achieved the lowest mean value were omitted.

The Bartlett's test of sphericity examines the null hypothesis that the correlation matrix is an identity matrix which would indicate that the factor model is inadequate. The Bartlett's test has a significance value of 4.16e – 15 which is less than the maximum value of 0.05.

5.2.2 The Extraction of the Factors

For the factor analysis a constraint of eigenvalues having to be greater than 1 was inputted. SPSS then uses Kaiser's criterion to extract these factors. As shown in Table 5.3, eleven factors have been extracted after seventeen iterations which means that these eleven factors explain relatively large amounts of variance over the rest and that there will be eleven groups of factors. This figure also compliments the Scree plot below shown in Figure 5.2 which shows the curve falling sharply at the start and eventually levelling out by the time it reaches eleven.

5.2.3 The Rotation of the Factors

Rotation is performed so as improve the interpretability of factors. It maximizes the loading of each variable on one of the extracted factors whilst minimizing the loading on all the other factors (Field, 2005). It is beneficial also as it makes it much clearer which variables relate to which factors.

The Varimax method is an orthogonal rotation method that minimizes the number of variables that have high loadings on each factor (Oyedele, 2009).

As shown in the print out for the rotation of the factors, we are left with eleven groups made of up thirty three variables. All thirty three variables are above 0.5 as one of the constraints was to suppress any variable under 0.5. The list is also listed in the order of size of their factor loadings because we asked for the output to be sorted by size. Any variable that appears on more than one group is deleted as this cannot be used.

5.2.4 The Labelling of Each Factor Group

Labelling the factor groups correctly is important as allows a common theme to be developed among the highly loaded factors (Field, 2005). The eleven groups are broken down as follows with the group name as the heading.

1. Increased Emphasis on Public Sector Contracts

5.2.5 Discussion of Top Five Factor Groups

Using the eigenvalue as a measure of performance of the factor groups, it is apparent that "Increase in Public Sector Contracts" is the most important factor to which firms feel have impacted on tendering practices. It has the highest value of 5.12 followed by "Adoption of New Practices Due to Reduced Tenders Available" at 4.15, "Increase Emphasis on Client" at 3.18, "Price vs. Quality" at 2.6 and "Overall Shift in Tendering Practices" at 2.13.

1. Increased Emphasis on Public Sector Contracts

Many contractors have experienced poor dealings with private contractors who have found themselves in financial trouble and cannot pay their debts. Public sector contracts can offer companies a guaranteed source of income for upto twenty five years.

The majority of contractors have adopted their project mix as the private sector feels the impact of a recession firstly and for a slightly longer period it is in a company's long term interest to carry out a more aggressive bidding policy towards the public sector (Ren & Lin, 1996). Also the UK Government's policy has been to provide a fiscal stimulus by increasing spending on large public projects so as to inject money into the economy which will filter down through all sectors (McFall, 2008).

Another advantage of the public sector is its transparency and openness during the tender stage. While the public sector may be susceptible to mal-practice, construction companies know that they will be impartially assessed and receive feedback under new regulations.

Both interviewees felt that pressurising the supply chain can offer the best opportunity for contractors to lower their tender price. Material costs and wages have reduced and along with innovative products which contractors can use to adopt their practices, improved tender prices can be submitted for public sector contracts.

The largest client for the construction industry at present is undoubtedly the public sector and this is discussed by RICS in their third quarter report for 2009 when they use the headline, "Public sector workloads continue to support construction activity'', (RICS, 2009).

2. Adoption of New Practices Due to Reduced Tenders Available

Contractors have realised the need to adapt, innovate and improve due to less tenders being available and an increased competition for these. This corresponds to the research hypothesis of the construction industry adopting and improving in the last number of decades and that it will continue to have to do so.

Below cost tendering is being employed by contractors in an effort to win contracts but both Whitten (2009) and Scully (2009) argue the point that this is unsustainable and will increase the risk of contractors facing insolvency which is why contractors have looked to make savings through squeezing their supply chain to ensure the best tender price.

Both interviewees drew attention to the availability of fewer tenders due to the reluctance of financial institutions to provide private clients with funds.

3. Increase Emphasis on Client

This factor can be traced back to Latham (1994), where he sought to achieve a "win-win" mentality between the client and contractor. Awareness and competition between contractors has allowed the client to become more advanced and to seek improvements within the industry to meet there needs (Yisa, Ndekugri & Ambrose 1996, pp.51).

Many contractors have spent significant time and resources improving their PQQ in order to reach the next stage of a project. Interviewee No.2 highlighted the importance of early client involvement which allows savings for both the client and contractor. Clients typically look to preferred bidders who they know from previous experience or through reputation can deliver. Interviewee No.1 described how some contractors focus a part of their project mix on smaller projects which allows a fast cashflow and reduced risk.

4. Price vs. Quality

The industry wide shift from "lowest price wins" mentality to "multi criteria selection" has been slowed down with the onset of the economic recession. Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer (1999) discussed how tendering transformed from the 1960's whereby private and public jobs were awarded solely on competitive tendering to a situation whereby a variety of issues were evaluated.

However more recently, both interviewees highlighted how below cost tendering has been adopted by many contractors as many clients have sought to use their dominance to acquire a better deal (Woods & Ellis, 2005, pp.321).

There has been increased emphasis on decision to tender with the location of a project an integral factor. Where firms once before would of set up a new office in an effort to win a contract they now concentrate on projects which are located nearby in an effort to reduce overhead costs.

Value engineering involves improving value for money by ensuring that the final design meets requirements without over-specification, at the lowest possible cost (Cooke & Williams, 2009).

5. Overall Shift in Tendering Practices

Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer (1999) discuss how tendering has transformed from the 1960's whereby private and public jobs were awarded solely on competitive tendering to a situation whereby a variety of issues are evaluated. There has been an industry wide shift from "lowest price wins" mentality to a "multi criteria selection".

Naoum (2003, pp.72) goes into further detail by outlining the disadvantages of using price-based competitive tendering. The traditional forms of contract have been adapted (JCT 98 standard form - JCT 2005) to accommodate change in the industry but the Latham report regarded the NEC contract as having the best potential for achieving a positive outcome for all the stakeholders, (Cooke & Willams, 2009, pp.7).

Latham (1994) proposed that considerable savings can be made by reducing confrontations between contractors and clients so as to improve the performance of the design and construction phase.

Below cost tendering goes against this view as it encourages contractors to look for substantial variations so as to break even or make a profit.

Kometa et al, (1996, pp.273) evaluate the need for the clients financial stability to be discussed in greater detail. They draw attention to the risk of late payments or client insolvency. Interviewee No.1 comment ted that;

"The client will have to show, for example, that they are organised and appear to be an efficient procurement authority. In a recession we will become a more discerning bidder as cash is tighter and projects more sought after."

5.3 Regression Modelling

Multiple regression is an extension of simple regression as it allows several or more predictors to be used (Field, 2005). For this analysis it was decided to do a total of four regression models which are summarized overleaf.

The first model (b) used No.40; "Your company will survive the economic recession", as the dependent variable with the eleven factors which were extracted through the factor analysis as the independent variables.

The second model (c) used No.39; "Overall the economic recession has had a negative impact on tendering your practices", as the dependent variable with the eleven factors which were extracted through the factor analysis as the independent variables.

The third model (e) used No.39; "Overall the economic recession has had a negative impact on tendering your practices", as the dependent variable with the thirty eight original factors as the independent variables.

The fourth model (f) used No.40; "Your company will survive the economic recession", as the dependent variable with the thirty eight original factors as the independent variables.

The results for model (e) and (f) will be explained in greater detail as they produced the best results using the original thirty eight factors as opposed to the eleven factors which were found through the factor analysis.

5.3.1 Regression Model (e)

As shown in the previous page and below in Table 5.5, four possible models were produced for model (e). The coefficient of determination (R­2) will be used to judge the predictive suitability of fit of the model. It gives the proportion that "Overall the economic recession has had a negative impact on tendering your practices", which is accounted for by the independent variables (extracted factors), reflecting the overall accuracy of the predictions.

The regression model five was chosen as it has the highest value for R­2 of 0.582. This means that the model can explain 58% of the variance in the output. The adjusted R­2 indicates how well the model generalizes and is adequate being as it is 0.582 – 0.536 = 0.054.

The standard error of estimate with a value of 0.69713 shows that dispersion for the regression model's prediction power is average. The Durbin Watson informs us about whether the assumption of independent error is tenable and should be below and close to two. As our value is slightly over two at 2.252 it implies that there is a negative correlation between adjacent residuals.

The analysis of variance (ANOVA) in Table 5.6 tests whether the model is a significant fit of the data overall and should be less than 0.05 significance level. The F value represents the ratio of the improvement in prediction that results from fitting the model, relative to the inaccuracy that still exists in the model (Field, 2005). In this case we have an F of 12.6 and at significance level of 0.000.

5.3.2 Regression Model (f)

As shown in the previous page and below in Table 5.7, five possible models were produced for model (f). The coefficient of determination (R­2) will be used to judge the predictive suitability of fit of the model. It gives the proportion that "Your company will survive the economic recession", which is accounted for by the independent variables (extracted factors), reflecting the overall accuracy of the predictions.

The regression model number five was chosen as it has the highest value for R­2 of 0.678. This means that the model can explain 68% of the variance in the output. The adjusted R­2 indicates how well the model generalizes and is adequate being as it is 0.678 – 0.632 = 0.046.

The standard error of estimate with a value of 0.33362 shows that dispersion for the regression model's prediction power is low. The Durbin Watson informs us about whether the assumption of independent error is tenable and should be below and close to two.

As our value is slightly over two at 2.023 it implies that there may be a negative correlation between adjacent residuals. The analysis of variance (ANOVA) in Table 5.9 tests whether the model is a significant fit of the data overall and should be less than 0.05 significance level.

The F value represents the ratio of the improvement in prediction that results from fitting the model, relative to the inaccuracy that still exists in the model (Field, 2005). In this case we have an F of 14.74 and at significance level of 0.000.

The table overleaf shows the detailed optimum regression results comprising the regression coefficients (ß), standard error, t-results and collinearity statistics. All the five factors were statistically significant predictors of whether the economic recession has had a negative impact on your tendering practices (less than 0.05).

The VIF which indicates whether a predictor has a strong linear relationship with other predictors indicating multicollinearity, should be less than 1 for a good model while the tolerance statistic should be greater than 1. Analysis of the results in Table 5.7 indicate that multicollinearity may be biasing the regression model as none of the tolerances are above 1 and none of the VIF values are below 1.

6 Discussion

This chapter will contain a discussion of the critical factors which have emerged from the qualitative and quantitative results and data. The overall implication of the critical factors for the construction industry will then assessed.

6.1 Critical Factors

Regression model (e) and (f) produced the best results and tied in best with both the literature review and cognitive mapping.

6.1.1 Regression Model (e)

Regression model (e) which used "Overall the economic recession has had a negative impact on tendering your practices" as the dependent variable. Model No.4 produced the highest variance value with 58% and the four factors which it contained listed below;

  1. Material prices have increased while tender prices have decreased.
  2. Contractors tendering for smaller projects to ensure fast cashflow.
  3. There is an increased exposure to risk for contractors.
  4. There is a change from traditional procurement to other forms.

These factors relate back to research questions numbers 2 and 3 which raise the question of what practices contractors are employing and how a change in procurement methods been used to improve tendering practices in construction.

The first factor above was discussed by Whitten (2009) and Scully (2009) as they both raised the issue of reductions in material and plant costs being exceeded by the drop in tender prices.

In order to win contracts they must therefore use below cost tendering which is unsustainable and will increase the risk of contractors facing insolvency. Insolvencies are predicted to occur firstly among contractors who tender correctly but fail to win the contract and then among those who win the contract with unsustainably low bids (Whitten, 2009). Interviewee No.2 described how contractors are evaluating clients at length in order to ascertain the risk involved in entering a contract with them.

The issue of tendering for smaller projects to ensure a fast cashflow is well founded as many contractors who are making a profit are still filing for liquidation as they do not have enough cash available to pay their debts as they fall due. By improving the cashflow they have less money tied up in long term projects which may have a retention. Also it allows contractors to hold onto valuable and experienced staff who may otherwise have to be made redundant and allows the company to be in a strong position following the recession.

The change in procurement methods are was discussed in the literature review by Yisa, Ndekugri & Ambrose (1996). This change can be contributed to the need for a more integrated and less fragmented approach as the main contractor is managing both the design and construction activities and can promote contractor led innovation. Risk, which is increasingly important in a recession is being shifted away from the client and towards the contractor under Design & Build and Private Finance Initiatives.

6.1.2 Regression Model (f)

Regression model (f) which used "Your company will survive the economic recession" as the dependent variable. Model No.5 produced the highest variance value with 68% and the five factors which it contained listed below;

  1. Profit margins have been reduced when competing for tenders.
  2. Contractors relying on variations to recoup low tender costs.
  3. Material prices have increased while tender prices have decreased.
  4. Contractors tendering for smaller projects to ensure fast cashflow.
  5. Price has become more important than quality.

These factors relate back to research questions numbers which discusses the main factors considered by contractors when deciding to tender and how does an economic recession alter these? e.g. Below cost tendering.

The first factor was discussed by Whitten (2009) writing for Construction News explained how The Civil Engineering Contractors Association has warned of an emerging trend of firms pricing below cost. They believe that for some organizations it is a matter of short term survival but that if it continues there will be an increase in disputes and a decline in investment in training and technology. Client and contractor relations have significantly improved in the last ten years but;

"will be stretched to breaking point if we see clients take advantage of the recession and of declining workloads to push for bargain base­ment prices."

This point was further reinforced by both interviewees who highlighted that when contractors use below cost tendering they are then under pressure to find variations so as to break even. RICS reported recently on their website (1st October 2009) that tender prices for new construction work will not rise until 2011 and that pre-recession levels wont be seen in the next five years. It was noted that if public spending was cut it would have a detrimental effect on the construction industry.

Factors number 3 and 4 were discussed in the previous section so the final factor will be discussed.

Interviewee No.1 felt that the advances made following the Latham and Egan reports have been shelved and both contractors and clients are reverting back to type. Edum-Fotwe & McCaffer (1999) discuss how tendering has transformed from the 1960's whereby private and public jobs were awarded solely on competitive tendering to a situation whereby a variety of issues are evaluated.

There was an industry wide shift from "lowest price wins" mentality to a "multi criteria selection". This viewpoint is now outdated as the client has realised that during difficult times, they can use their dominance to acquire a better deal (Woods & Ellis, 2005, pp.321). Contractors have then reverted to type also as they now price contracts at below cost but rely on variations to recoup low tenders.

6.2 Implication for Practice

Based on the literature review, interviews and completed questionnaire, the construction industry cannot obstruct change but needs to embrace it and adopt and improve existing practices which can benefit all the stakeholders.

The last major recession in the UK brought about the Latham and Egan reports which have made considerable improvements to the construction industry. Tendering changed from a "lowest price wins" mentality to a "multi criteria selection". This has once again shifted as both clients and contractors have reverted back to type with below cost tendering and variations being sought by contractors.

Both interviewees highlighted that in order to cut costs you cannot reduce expenditure on health and safety, environmental, CSR, etc. as this increases your exposure to risk which may cost you more in the long term. Lean construction which can be adopted through individual projects or the company as a whole, partnering, early client involvement, innovation, strategic tendering and supply chain integration can all be used by contractors.

It is recommended that just like the last recession brought about the Latham and Egan reports which helped to improve the construction industry for the next boom, a new report needs to be completed which can aid the construction industry so that the effects of this recession are felt for the shortest time possible.

7. Conclusions

It has been shown how the construction industry has learned from other sectors, adapted, innovated and evolved its culture so as to survive previous recessions and improve the outcomes for all the stakeholders. It is however extremely vulnerable to a recession as it affected by both the demand and the increased costs associated with construction.

The economic recession has forced cost to the forefront of clients and contractors minds thus requiring a number of strategies to be implemented so that the standards reached in quality, health and safety and the environment are not abandoned. Reverting back to type by both parties through below cost tendering is a regretful scenario as there have been many advances in the last number of years throughout construction.

Neither the client nor the contractor can escape change but by working together in new practices such as partnering they can achieve their stated goals more quickly and efficiently. This can also be applied "downstream", between the contractor and sub-contractor through co-contracting and between the contractor and supplier by means of supply chain integration. Contractors must anticipate change, adapt and provide training for its workforce so that they will be able to use new practices and add value to the company.

Even during boom times contractors are operating on tight margins which can be wiped out through costly litigation. It has come to a stage whereby contractors are taking on work at a loss just to get on to a clients list with the chance of future work.

Following the literature review, interviews and completed questionnaires it can be concluded that there are many techniques available to the industry so that Latham's (1994) aim of a "win-win" mentality can still be achieved through lean construction, evaluating risks, strategic project mix, reduced bidding frequency and innovation.

The concept of partnering and early client involvement is extremely important so as to build up a strong relationship with a better outcome for both the client and the contractor with the increased likelihood of repeat work.

Changes in tendering through partnering, innovation, strategic tendering and the use of new contracts which promote resolution can assist in companies surviving a recession and being stronger and leaner for the next boom.

8. References

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