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NAO sees the light, can Government?


OCCASIONALLY a report comes along that talks so much good sense it cannot be ignored.This is the case with the latest offering from the Government's spending watchdog, the National Audit Office.

At first glance, the report reads as a client good practice guide highlighting partnering, early contractor involvement in projects and strong client leadership. But the Auditor General's recommendations will have real teeth if acted upon and could revolutionise Government procurement practice.

Construction gets a well-deserved pat on the back for making real improvements over the past four years.

The report could not endorse ProCure 21 and collaborative working more highly as a route to effectively project delivery, even if calls to introduce more competition in partnering miss the point slightly.

Long overdue is the call for Government to improve the coordination between its 10 or more departments and agencies, standardising approaches to buying and promoting common practice on training, health and safety, employment and design issues.

The NAO's proposal to strike a red line through most of the 70 improvement initiatives unearthed by auditors will win support from an industry burdened by paperwork. But the biggest breakthrough of all is the call for the widespread use of project accounts and project-wide insurance.

This is the clearest endorsement yet of practices successfully used in parts of Europe and the USA, and presents a real opportunity to smooth supply chain payments and put an end to archaic practices like holding retentions, not to mention flexing some buying muscle with insurers.

If the Government is truly committed to modernising construction and getting value for money from its huge public spending plans, it must not hesitate to act on the independent recommendations of a well-researched report.