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Construction programme: the main contractor is beating me up and insisting I follow his programme? Do I have to?

On lots of projects that we work on, we find main contractors pressuring subcontractors to follow a strict construction programme of work. This invariably causes the poor subbie to incur additional costs and it often becomes the cause of a dust-up on site.

What is a construction programme of work?

Most standard and bespoke forms of contracts that we see include a provision requiring the main contractor to produce a programme of work. This construction programme should be issued within a set number of days after entering into the contract and it should detail how the main contractor intends to complete the work by the completion date.

Importantly, programmes are not contract documents. If they were, this could create problems for all concerned, but that’s for another time.

Most standard forms don’t require the main contractor to follow their own construction programme activity-by-activity, line-by-line, and date-by-date. The contractor is free to alter and amend the programme to suit their own specific needs and adopt any rescheduling or alternative methods of construction accordingly. The obligation is to complete by the completion date and the contractor will naturally try to avoid any penalties.

What is the subbie obliged to do?

Here’s the good news: unless your subcontract includes an express obligation to comply with the main contractors programme (i.e. “You must follow the main contractors programme to the letter”), then it’s the same for the subbies.

What I mean is, the subbie’s obligation is to complete the work in accordance with the actual progress of the work on site and this does not mean following the main contractor’s programme to the letter.

My advice is: try and accommodate the main contractor’s requests as much as you can, without incurring significant additional costs, but make it clear you are not obliged to and you are doing so out of the goodness of your own heart.

If it costs you more than you can bear, then advise them accordingly. But be flexible – you never know when you may need a favour!

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