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CBI Construction Council: Govt can fast-track project spending

Government departments could realistically accelerate spending on its existing programmes like Building Schools for the Future and the Olympics if it quickly improves its processes, new CBI Construction Council chairman John McDonough said today.

Many analysts have raised doubts over whether Government projects can be fast-tracked following promises made by Chancellor Alistair Darling two weeks ago.

Speaking after the council’s first meeting earlier today Mr McDonough, also chief executive of Carillion, said the only way to accelerate spending was for the programmes to work better.

He said: “There are process and procedures already there for existing programmes; we aren’t talking about bringing forward blue sky projects. There are Government departments that are best in class and there are some that have a long way to go.”

Mr McDonough said the new council – which is made of chairs and chief executives of 25 large companies – was already working closely with the Treasury and other Government departments and had a much better chance of helping bring forward spending to stave off the downturn than industry trade bodies.

He said: “We would be very happy if the Government stuck to its spending plans for 2008/09 as stated in the comprehensive spending review. But, they could accelerate what Network Rail spends, what Transport for London spends and Building Schools for the Future spending as well as the Olympics.”

Miller Group chief executive Keith Miller said after the meeting: “The processes are all well developed but it just needs a push, and the industry can help.”

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said it had a track record for helping government to speed up how it procured construction, but local spending was where real improvement was needed. “Once Government was able to lift its sights from the banking crisis the Treasury has been all over us.”

He said the council was talking to Downing Street about how central government can accelerate not just its spending but spending by councils as well: “Local government will have to be encouraged to get better.”