NEC What I've Learnt : a quick interview with Neil Earnshaw

NEC What I've Learnt : a quick interview with Neil Earnshaw

Neil is a Director of NE Consult and an NEC Consultant. Highly regarded within the industry, he has experience working as a client, consultant and contractor with particular expertise in developing and implementing NEC forms of contract. He's also one of our Subject Matter Experts working with us to produce and review our course content.

Hi Neil, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. To start with, how would others describe you in ten words?

Hopefully, they’d say something like “gives clear, pragmatic advice on effective use of the NEC”.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Professionally I’m a quantity surveyor and project manager who started out in the industry over 20 years ago working for contractors and consultants. For the last 12 years, I’ve run my own consultancy business and worked across the industry in the UK providing NEC training and consultancy services.

Can you tell us about yourself and the experience you have with NEC contracts?

I first got involved with managing NEC contracts back in the late 1990s working as a consultant for Yorkshire Water. They were one of the early adopters of them and were one of the leading client organisations at that time in terms of their thinking about how to deliver projects more efficiently.

When did you first start using NEC3 contracts?

I’ve been using all the NEC3 contracts since they were first published in 2005. Back then I had a client who was procuring a maintenance contract for Rampton Hospital and I managed to convince them to use the brand new NEC3 Term Service Contract. This contract was the first published case study of the TSC being used by industry. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to be in a position to be able to influence the future development of this contract, and I’ve been pleased to see a number of my recommendations included in the NEC4 TSC.

What do you like about your current NEC3 job/project?

Making a difference. I recently trained a client’s community of project staff; approximately 100 people from project management, engineering and commercial disciplines. Many had received NEC3 training of one sort or another, and they were all working on NEC3 projects. The most satisfying thing for me was being able to help people understand where they were getting things wrong, and then helping them to change this.

What is the hardest thing that you've had to deal with on an NEC project?

That’s difficult as I’m usually brought in to help clients solve their most difficult problems so every piece of work I do presents new and interesting technical challenges to resolve. Having said this, the resolving the contractual issues is actually quite straightforward compared to the human issues that are usually at the heart of the problem! Taking a collection of individuals from different organisations and helping them to work together as a team is always the most challenging, but rewarding aspect of my work.

Name one thing that you really like about NEC3?

The early warning process. Successful projects get this bit right from the start and it’s one of the key differentiators between NEC3 and other contracts that can help improve the predictability of outcome for a project.

Can you explain to new users the top strengths and the pitfalls?

Early warning and the programme are the lifeblood of NEC3 contracts and the two key processes that can help projects to stay on track and manage risks and resources effectively.

Pitfalls? There aren’t any significant ones. After 26 years of continuous development, it has now reached a point where most of the clauses in the contract are robust. Most of the pitfalls as I see it come from people using the contract incorrectly which usually comes about as a result of poor/non-existent training or bad advice.

Many cite the additional resources required to manage an NEC3 contract as a pitfall. I don’t agree with that. When projects go, wrong people, haemorrhage money into claims and disputes with barely a second thought. To my mind, it is much better for all parties to invest in a project to prevent this from happening in the first place.

What obstacles or unanticipated circumstances did NEC3 highlight?

There’s still a mindset in some areas of industry that getting the contract out of the bottom drawer is somehow a sign of failure. The contract is supposed to be used as a tool, not a weapon, but people can still be uncomfortable with this approach.

If you could change one thing about NEC3, what would it be?

If I ruled the NEC world I’d make it impossible for people to draft stupid Z clauses that amend the standard contract. You know the ones I mean? The ones that take a clear and simple requirement and confuse it, or the ones designed to dump significant risks on the other party, or those that make it easy for one party to wriggle out of their obligations to the other party.

How do you respond to criticism of NEC3?

I react a bit like Churchill when speaking on democracy being “the worst form of government except for all the others”! NEC3 is far from being the worst form of contract, in my opinion, it’s the best. It’s not perfect though, but it’s much better than the alternatives!

About the author:

Neil Earnshaw is a highly regarded consultant with experience working as a client, consultant and contractor in the construction industry with particular expertise in developing and implementing NEC forms of contract.
He is a specialist in the use of the NEC3 Term Service Contract for facilities management and property services contracts, and the author of Chapter 4 - Maintenance Contracts of CIBSE Guide M: Maintenance Engineering and Management.

His specialties lie across Commercial Management, Facilities Management, NEC Form of Contract, Procurement and Outsourcing, Project Management, Quantity Surveying, Risk and Value Management.

Neil lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and has 3 teenage children. He is a keen (obsessive!) road cyclist and mountain biker.

Director of NE Consult and NEC Consultant

Neil Earnshaw

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