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Private sector hits back in cuts row

A number of leading industry figures have this week heavily criticised public sector procurement methods for prohibiting economic growth.

Senior managers from British Land, Mace and the UK Contractors Group branded the process for selecting contractors and developers clunky and wasteful.

They said the public sector was making it difficult for the private sector to achieve the kind of savings being demanded of it.

British Land head of developments Nigel Webb said: “The majority of public sector clients are asking developers to jump through so many hoops before they are even selected, they then spend the next two years undoing what they did in 12 weeks of haste.

“The system needs to be slimmed down. The costs are currently so high it bars many from competing. The question must also be asked: Should you be judged on a master plan, or should you be judged on whether you are a company that has the resources and will be around long enough to see the project through?”

UKCG director Stephen Ratcliffe said the process for selecting contractors meant it took “an age” to get through. He used the abandoned Building Schools for the Future programme as an example of numerous wasted designs before bricks were even laid.

“There’s no doubt that better processes would squeeze down costs,” he told Construction News.

“This is the conversation we’ve been having with ministers. If the government sharpens its procurement methods then we could cut costs.”

Mr Ratcliffe said he believed the coalition government’s localism agenda would compound old problems. “Suddenly deciding to break it up so your local GP, headmaster or army chief decides on the procurement process for their own surgery, school or barracks is obviously going to carry a greater amount of risk,” he said.

“At the Conservative party conference David Cameron said the government’s primary objective was to stimulate growth. They said any policies that prevent growth need to go - we’ll have to see.”

Mace director and head of public sector David Bill also criticised the “one size fits all” application of the legislation and said procurement methods were essentially the same whether a body was choosing a stationary supplier or a developer to deliver a nuclear power station.

He said the growing ‘no win, no fee’ attitude towards legal action was forcing procurement departments to be increasingly conservative and that tenders were becoming hugely complicated.

“We have bid for projects recently and been given a limited amount of time for hugely complicated tenders,” he said.

“The authorities really need to ask themselves what they’re looking to buy - a master plan or an adviser that can help deliver the project in the best way possible.”