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BAA open tendering raises criticism

The open tendering system being used by airports giant BAA to procure major works at Heathrow airport has been met with criticism by contractors.

Firms told Construction News they have been hesitant about or put off bidding because the process, which does not have formal pre-qualification questionnaires and uses the AirportSmart electronic tendering system, is overcomplicated and lacks information.

The Multi-Storey Car Park East phase 1 contract - thought to be worth around £100m - is one of the first major projects to be procured through the new system.

Open tendering was introduced after the airport operator’s capital programmes director Steven Morgan dissolved its framework for major projects.

One source, who attended a suppliers’ day for potential bidders, said they found it hard to pull together the information required to make a commercial decision on bidding.

“The whole process was strange,” he said. “It was the aggravation factor that put us off. It was complicated where it shouldn’t have been. If the information had been freer and given to us earlier we may have gone for it.”

The source said his firm was also put off by the charge - said to be more than £3,000 - to submit tender papers for the contract on AirportSmart.

“BAA and their people are used to going down the framework route. They’ve torn it all up and gone down this route. It’s not the way forward for contractors but, with the way work is at the moment, BAA can do what they want.”

It is understood that contractors previously on BAA’s major projects framework are still keen to bid for the contract. It is thought that Laing O’Rourke, Mace and Vinci have all considered the job.

One industry source told Construction News: “Previously BAA was held up as having visionary procurement policy. If you were going to build something, that was how it should be done.

“Contractors would prefer them to stick with what they were doing. They [BAA] think they can get things cheaper now but it may not be the case 10 years down the line.”

The source added that the nature of the work at airports might not match with many contractors’ experiences and there may not be as many bidders as the client hoped.

“It’s not as bad as the nuclear sector in terms of high barriers but it’s not an easy place to work because of the live environment.”

A BAA spokesperson told Construction News that its procurement process was “open and transparent”.

She added: “We are committed to inviting competitive bids for work and are keen to make tendering opportunities as widely available as possible.

“The onus is on contractors to judge whether this is an appropriate opportunity; we have been very clear about the challenges involved.”

The spokesperson added that AirportSmart made the tender process more efficient and that cost and time saving benefits outweighed the participation fee.