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Procurement needs a radical shake-up

LETTERS

Sir, THE WHINGEING from main contractors (Construction News, July 12) over the lack of suitable specialist subcontractors for cladding and curtain walling sounded remarkably like the sound of breaking eggs which had been stuck in one basket for too long.

The UK construction industry has only itself to blame for the lack of capacity and choice that now exists.

A procurement strategy that has for years caused specialists to try to survive in a hunger-andbust environment has robbed the sector of investment in training, quality control and innovation and opened the door to continental specialists.

The inference in your article was that the projects at Canary Wharf and Paddington Basin had so eaten into capacity that main contractors had been forced to look abroad for resources.

The reverse is the case. It is because the foreign companies' resources are now completely taken up that hands are being wrung over the corpse of the UK industry. It remains baffling that, in spite of this, the blinkered procurement system stumbles on believing even after the recent spate of continental mergers and amalgamations that competition exists.

There is only one way to overcome this problem and that lies in radical revision of the procurement strategy.

Few clients or main contractors appreciate the level of investment needed to recruit, train and retrain a highly skilled design office, effective management team and a reliable and skilled labour force - or the cost involvement and time needed to produce a meaningful bid for a major project in our sector of the industry.

The absurdity remains that main contractors and clients think nothing of soliciting four or more tenders for a major project on the basis of the most tawdry of drawn information and a performance specification. Can it not be grasped that the scarce and finite resource of designers and managers are required to put these bids together? The same designers and managers whose unavailability is so lamented by those who have just squandered the resource.

It is time that those with orders to place start looking nearer home and nurturing the efforts of the few British contractors that are committed to investment and training and whose efforts are so ill-rewarded when major projects are handed on plates to foreign competitors leaving only the least attractive elements to them.

Unless action is taken the UK cladding and glazing market will become even more of a pan-European cartel, offering nothing other than standard systems at a pre-set cost level, than it is already.

W G F Dickson Business Development Director Exterior Profiles Limited Bedfordshire