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THE MAJOR surprise of 2004 was in March when Chancellor Gordon Brown announced a review of the Construction Act in a bid to improve payment practices.

Somewhat less surprising was the bunfight that ensued through the summer between the main contractors and specialist subcontractors, who were looking to batten down lengthening payment periods, cutting back 'pay-whenpaid' clauses in cases of insolvency, as well as limiting the abuse of 'pay-when-certified' clauses.

The contractors, on the other hand, were playing a straight bat that Geoffrey Boycott would have been proud of.

Sir Michael Latham - called again to the fore to chair the review 10 years after producing Constructing the Team - must have had a sinking feeling of deja vu.

So nine months on from the much-heralded review announcement, the Department of Trade and Industry - perhaps naively looking for industry consensus on change - has delayed its consultation paper on potential amendments to the Act. Changes seem unlikely before the next general election.

But we can't let 2004 go without mentioning construction minister Nigel Griffiths' flying visit to the industry fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference - abruptly walking into the meeting and announcing 'you've got seven minutes - that's the deal'.

His brusque performance managed to annoy practically every industry figure in the room and earned him the soubriquet of the 'seven-minute minister'.

When the gaffe found its way to these pages, he compounded his error by setting his minions to work attempting to strong-arm the same industry figures into writing to us to defend him.

Unsurprisingly the majority didn't give him the time of day.