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Councils team up for major bidding overhaul

Contractors will be offered the chance to bid for local authority construction work across England under a single combined competition due to be launched later this year.

The Collaborative Working Centre is meeting in the next few weeks with representatives from England’s regions to discuss plans it has been developing with Constructing Excellence to roll out regional construction framework deals.

The four year deals, which could be worth billions of pounds, will allow any public client in a region to use chosen framework contractors to deliver their projects without having to go through the time and cost of formally advertising each project in the Official Journal of the European Union.

The framework may even be made available to private sector clients if there is demand to do so. The deals will cover building work, with separate arrangements for housing and civil engineering.

Frameworks for the North-east, Yorkshire, North-west, East and West Midlands are all under consideration. At least two or three clients in each region are said to be preparing to put work through them.

The move follows the establishment of a pilot framework this month where a not-for-profit company has been set up to run by Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk Councils.

Seven firms are on the Smarte East framework with May Gurney, Willmott Dixon and Rok joined by smaller outfits Ashe, Lakehouse, Borras and Grehan.

Smarte East was set up to deliver up to £120 million worth of work, although this is expected to grow as other councils and clients take advantage of it.

Already ConstructionSkills is understood to be close to a decision to use the Smarte East framework for the Ł20 million deal to rebuild the National Construction College at Bircham Newton in Norfolk.

In the South-east and South-west other framework style deals are already underway or in planning but political differences between London boroughs are believed to have made a regional framework for the capital too difficult to push through.

Neil Jarrett, chief executive of the Collaborative Working Centre, said he hoped to get the idea off the ground by the summer with the first frameworks up and running by mid-2009.

He added: “The process of advertising the frameworks could take anything from three months to a year but I hope it will be more like three months because of the lessons we have learnt from Smarte East.”

CWC is also set to meet with Tim Byles, chief executive of Building Schools for the Future delivery body Partnerships for Schools, this week to see whether the frameworks can be used to shortcut procurement for the £45 billion programme.

Mr Jarrett said: “Ideally we would like to deliver BSF through the regional frameworks which would save both time and a fortune in setting up costs for establishing local education partnerships. It will depend on where their own procurement review is, as to whether they will allow a shortened procurement process using regional frameworks.”

Frameworks are also expected to be set up for other skills such as designers, project managers, ICT, finance and strategic client advice.

Constructing Excellence chief executive Don Ward said: “It is difficult to get everyone in a region together straight away to form a framework but if a critical mass can be formed in each area then I would hope it will be a success.”

The frameworks will also take into account a requirement to ensure small to medium sized firms get a bite of the work. Mr Jarrett said fears that smaller firms would be shut out of deals had been scotched by the experience with Smarte East.

Analysis: The path to huge savings may prove difficult

By Alasdair Reisner

The scale of what might be achieved in terms of streamlining procurement through the Collaborative Working Centre’s regional construction frameworks is staggering.

Local authorities spend hundreds of millions of pounds each year on construction and there are huge savings potential if waste can be cut out.

But CWC’s Neil Jarrett is careful not to talk of such figures, recognising that such work volumes will only be achieved in the long-term.

This is because getting to that point will involve bringing together clients that have previously worked apart, competing for resources.

This will not be easy and so it will be up to a smaller number of innovative clients to pioneer the approach.

But in a week when construction minister Stephen Timms told the select committee enquiry into the industry that he felt the reform agenda was alive and well, here is the evidence.

As long as there is sufficient momentum to get the frameworks off the ground, other clients will surely be drawn to them as they prove themselves to be a more efficient way of delivering construction.

NEWSPLUS: Click here to read an exclusive interview with Neil Jarrett, chief executive of the Collaborative Working Centre, discussing the prospects for regional construction frameworks.