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The power of procurement in public sector construction

The West Midlands Contractor Framework comes to a close this month and after four years of operation we’ve learnt some valuable lessons about delivering efficient construction in the public sector.

Even today, public sector construction accounts for a quarter of all construction activity in the UK and about £4bn of economic value.

It is also one of the most expensive activities a public body undertakes, and one of the most visible.

So as the government garners for growth and the public sector continues to strive for efficiency, what are the important lessons we’ve learned?

Smart procurement powers progress

Given that the average cost of public sector procurement is £45,200 according to the Centre for Business Research, competitive tendering can be both a time and resource intensive process, and can lead to a cost over quality approach.

Despite attempts to tackle it, it’s still an issue in the public sector, where expectations are high and resources are limited.

“Collaboration removes the emphasis on competitive delivery and encourages investment in skills and technology”

The WMCF is partly a response to this issue; removing competitive tendering for each project allows us to engage directly with the contractors – Thomas Vale, Speller Metcalfe and Kier Construction Central – in a more open, structured format that encourages knowledge sharing over debates about cost.

It has also resulted in greater efficiency and better predictability over project spending – meaning it’s better for the taxpayer.

Collaboration is key

This aside, we’ve also found collaboration is essential to efficient construction.

From idea sharing to establishing long-term relationships between clients, contractors and the supply chain, collaboration removes the emphasis on competitive delivery and encourages investment in skills and technology, such as BIM.

As a result the framework has delivered a variety of quality space and energy efficient facilities, while promoting a ‘local first’ approach.

Not only does this approach firmly underline the Communities and Local Government Committee’s recommendation of value for money, not simply lowest price, but as our framework now comes to a close, it underpins three very important lessons: spend wisely, think strategically and work collaboratively.

Andrew Peasgood is framework manager at Worcestershire County Council (member of the West Midlands Contractor Framework)

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