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A Government-backed bid to boost the efficiency of Britain's construction industry is to be set in train next month.Officials from the Department of the Environment and the Treasury are to develop a strategy to help contractors, consultants and materials producers better compete against their overseas rivals.The news comes in the wake of the White Paper on competitiveness published by the president of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, on Tuesday.Discussions between the DoE and the Treasury will focus on how the Government can use its role as a major client to press the industry to improve its competitiveness.Issues raised will include boosting the use of partnering; whether fee competition is harming Britain's consultants; and the level of research and development.In addition, the White Paper will offer well-qualified 18-and 19-year-olds an express route into apprenticeships.The Government has suggested youngsters who enter the industry in such a way could qualify in 18 months instead of three years.Employment secretary David Hunt is expected to meet Sir Clifford Chetwood, chairman of the Construction Industry Training Board, to see how the industry can take advantage of the changes.The measure is expected to double the number of apprentices entering all industries over the next three years at a cost of £107 million.Subcontractors and suppliers will be disappointed that the White Paper has ruled out legislation on late payment - at least for two years.It argued that a change of business culture was required rather than legislation.But the paper did stress that all government organisations will be expected to pay promptly. And it said measures would be introduced to make it easier for firms to recover debts from the courts. CONSTRUCTION NEWS