Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I’m a Quantity Surveyor get me out of here!

One of the things that is most talked about in the industry is late payments. It is a buzzword, another idealism that doesn’t transpire to the actual working practices seen every day in this industry.

I have to say that late payment has to be the topic that sends me over the edge most often… not financially but mentally.

When you run a business and it doesn’t matter what kind it is, there are 3 key stages that I have found in business, they are:

1. Finding the work and winning it

2. Actually doing the work

3. Getting paid for the work.

Every time that I have done business with people in the construction industry I have always found that the middle one is the easiest.

When you consider that throughout the industry there are lots of different people employed, all having different qualifications and coming from different training backgrounds, but there is one special particular group of people I want to focus your mind on in this blog post and that is the men and women who work in the Accounts Department of Main Contractors.

These people are the most powerful people in the supply chain – yes you read that right – forget the SubContract Buyers, the Supply Chain Managers, the QS’s and anyone else with a nice sounding title it is Mr Smith and Mrs Brown from SubContract Accounts!!!!

Now when you picture these people in your mind’s eye just thing about the ones you have dealt with in the past, think back to all the times you have spoken to them, the lovely conversations you have shared and the trusting relationship you have built up. (Hmm I don’t think so.)

Let me run through the experiences that I have had when trying to get paid – see if this looks familiar
*work finished

*send invoice with payment due date

*payment due date passes without a word

*chase payment speak to accounts (1st call) – first question they ask without fail is ‘who did you send the invoice to?’, then they proceed to say : ‘well I haven’t seen that invoice, you will need to go back and get them to authorise it’ – ‘OK’ you say and you do that
speak to accounts (2nd call) – you say – ‘chasing up the payment RE xxx’ and they say ‘oh haven’t got that invoice through yet from X , phone back at the end of the week’
*speak to accounts (3rd call) – you say ‘ yes it is me again chasing the payment’ and they say (AND HERE IS THE PUNCHLINE) ‘ Oh yeah , we’ve got that now’ you say ‘YES!!, when will it be paid’ and they say‘ well, unfortunately we have missed this month’s cheque run and so it won’t go through until next month now – sorry ‘

*at this point I usually get off the phone and swear to myself that I will never work in construction again and make a promise to myself that I will retrain to be a traffic warden who share the same ethical values and reasoning abilities that everyone working in an Accounts department I have ever spoke to has.

One of the biggest questions that burdens me when I go to sleep at night is, Where do these people that work in the accounts departments all train ? - what part of the syllabus for accounting technicians or accountants teaches them to all have the same attitudes, the same tactics and the same tricks to avoid paying people on time. BE UNDER NO ILLUSION THAT IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT, NOT PAYING ON TIME.

When they drafted the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 did all those clever people who wanted to ensure late payments be counteracted take into account the ‘call centre’ mentality of the staff in Accounts Department.

(Imagine a construction related Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse sketch) If I were to submit an invoice next year to a Contractor and then to phone up their accounts department when it doesn’t get paid and to be put through to a call centre in a developing economy and to be told ‘sorry you have missed the cheque run’ I would say ‘ Oi Message to Contractors – sort out those people in the accounts and tell them to buck up their act !! or I’ll give you a parking ticket !!’


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