Stephen Fry needs the new QS handbook

Once again the quantity surveyor is the butt of a joke, but these are glory days for the profession.

Stephen Fry is not normally a fellow with whom one wants to pick a fight. For a start he is well over six foot tall, apparently has a brain the size of the planet Venus and more importantly at the last count had well over 6.7 million avid twitter followers. All of which are very good reasons not to chastise or criticise a man who has taken on the persona of National Treasure. Nevertheless I was somewhat surprised that during his bravado performance hosting this year’s British Academy Awards he chose to suggest that Oscar nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, star of the Batman film Dark Night, amongst others, will perhaps one day achieve her dream of breaking away and pursuing her real ambition, of becoming a quantity surveyor.

Since at no point, to my certain knowledge, has Maggie nor any of her friends Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Nicole Kidman applied for our graduate trainee programme, I can only assume that this was sarcasm from Mr Fry. The problem being that apart from the fact that a good portion of the BAFTA audience were no doubt unsure of what a quantity surveyor actually does and may have thought of it as being some sort of weird cockney rhyming slang, it is often used as a touch stone for those who wish to highlight a role that they do not feel is glamorous or exciting.

This book is a great window on the profession and it is a superb way of illustrating the way the QS profession has had to adapt.

I am not about to present a defence for the profession and compare it to other jobs because it is frankly, a thankless task. I can however confidently say that the role is in something of a metamorphosis at the moment and this is no more clearly shown than if one picks up the latest offering from the RICS bookshop. The “NRM 1 Cost Management Handbook - a definitive guide to measurement and estimating using NRM1”. The title itself is admittedly not its best feature and I cannot see it troubling the Amazon top 10, however this book is a great window on the profession and it is a superb way of illustrating the way the QS profession has had to adapt, change and almost re-invent itself to meet the demands of clients in the 21st century. The book is designed as a guide walking the reader through the New Rules of Measurement: Order of cost estimating and cost planning of capital building works (referred as NRM1) which is the cornerstone of good cost management of building projects. The handbook shows how the profession has had to move from the days of merely quantifying materials to now interpreting risk. It appeals not just to QSs but anyone involved in the financial management of construction projects - not just cost managers - anyone involved in setting and/or managing construction budgets from initial Development (or Investment) Appraisals to the settlement of final accounts, through design development and procurement of capital building works projects.

A copy of the new handbook has already been sent to Stephen Fry who has not yet responded to my requests for a review. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s is in the post.

In a world of litigation and blame apportionment, the guide has a very useful section on best practice which will help develop a professional reputation at both individual and corporate level. At this point I must declare an interest, I have known the author, David Benge, for some time and he authored the original NRM1 for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and was co-author on the two subsequent editions of NRM2 & NRM3. Apart from the fact that in my view he has unparalleled knowledge in this is area, one of the reasons why this book is a good advert for the QS profession is because I know that David has learnt the hard way from working in the public and private sector on numerous schemes. There are huge challenges and responsibilities in taking on the mantle of the QS on any given project and he highlights the common pitfalls and advises how to avoid them. The guide provides clear and efficient procedures which should help minimise unproductive rework by the cost manager, as well as reduce the opportunity for any misunderstanding.

At the end of the day I cannot pretend to any young graduate trainee entering my office as a part of the induction that their friends will be amazed or stunned into shocked excitement by the revelation that they have entered the ranks of quantity surveying. However what I can say is that without the QS, projects will often not happen or if they do, they are hideously over budget, poorly managed and post construction will be more often than not, pored over by happy lawyers than contented clients. A copy of the new handbook has already been sent to Stephen Fry who has not yet responded to my requests for a review. Maggie’s is in the post.

Richard Steer is Chairman of Gleeds Worldwide.

Opinion piece first published in Building on the 14th of April 2014



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