Contractors have warned construction minister Mark Prisk that small firms may not be best placed to deliver efficiencies on public sector contracts.
UK Contractors Group director Stephen Ratcliffe said he was concerned the localism agenda could see inexperienced clients making major decisions on construction.
Mr Prisk told Construction News at Ecobuild 2011 last week that the government was looking at ways to simplify its public procurement process after being lobbied for change by the industry.
He said he had been talking to firms that had flagged the need to simplify the procurement process, and working with Francis Maude to boost small firms’ chances of competing for construction work (see CN 17 Feb, p5).
“Francis and I both take the view that we need a much greater flexibility in how we procure. We need standardisation and simplification so new and smaller firms can get in,” he said.
“One of the problems you have now is that there are lots of purchasers in the public sector behaving in ways which make it very difficult. We need to make the process simpler, reduce the pre-qualification process and allow people to compete.”
But Mr Ratcliffe said the government had to be responsible in the way it dealt with public procurement. “The real issue is that smaller companies would not have massively strong balance sheets to manage the risk, and if you can manage a framework over five years you get far better economies of scale,” he said.
“SMEs are really important but the idea that you can simply transfer business away from major contractors and frameworks is slightly unrealistic.”
Meanwhile, Peter Bonfield, chief executive at research body BRE, said he had held talks with the government about how they could learn from the ODA’s procurement process for the Olympic Games next year.
He told a seminar on the Olympics that the ODA had maintained a strict procedure on procurement that meant it did not simply seek the cheapest bids.
ODA head of sustainability Richard Jackson revealed that a number of contracts had not started on time because the authority stopped work until they were satisfied with their environmental management plan.
Also at the event, chief construction adviser Paul Morrell added that the government’s response to the Innovation and Growth Team’s Low Carbon Construction report would be delayed until May.