The government’s flagship policy to reduce waste in the construction supply chain and support SME contractors is at risk of failing, one of its authors has warned.
Electrical Contractors’ Association head of safety and environment Paul Reeve, who was on the core drafting committee for the government-backed standardised pre-qualification questionnaire PAS91, said the document has so far failed to deliver the benefits it should have and needs a “major overhaul”.
The standardised document - published by the British Standards Institute - was among the most significant policies introduced by the government for construction SMEs to help cut “billions” of pounds of waste and duplication from the supply chain.
It was developed by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Cabinet Office Efficiency Reform Group, together with several industry groups. It came into force in October 2010.
Speaking to CN after a summit hosted by BSI to discuss the future of PAS91, Mr Reeve said he felt “moved enough” to speak out because “after 15 months it has hardly made any impact at all”.
He said: “It has become apparent that PAS91 needs a major overhaul, that it’s not making anywhere near as much impact in the supply chain as people would like or hope.
“I’d say it’s possibly in the last chance saloon; if it can’t make an impact in the supply chain it has no future.”
Mr Reeve said changes must be made to make the benefits of standardised pre-qualification clear to both buyers and suppliers (see box).
Central government departments are the only major clients using the standard and very few local authorities had adopted it, he added.
“There is very little information out there about take-up and that is very disappointing,” he said.
“If you can get the document right then you should take it down the road to become a British standard but clearly it’s nowhere near. We can’t allow it to perform in the next 15 months as it has done in the previous 15 months.”
Mr Reeve said he does not blame the apparent failure of PAS91 on the government or the construction minister and welcomes the support lent by the likes of chief construction adviser Paul Morrell.
Ministers have repeatedly trumpeted PAS91 as being at the heart of their plan to reform the construction industry, with Prime Minister David Cameron and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude hailing it as a vital part of the answer to improving SME access in the industry at a Treasury summit held in February last year and attended by CN.
Launching the document in October 2010, construction minister Mark Prisk said PAS91 could save the industry “billions of pounds” over the next decade.
It was listed as one of five ways to boost efficiency and cut waste in the Government Construction Strategy, published last May, and was highlighted as an area in which the government had already made progress.
The timetable published with the strategy said PAS91 would be embedded in 2011 and be used by “government clients and suppliers and down the supply chain”.
Specialist Engineering Contractors Group chief executive Rudi Klein said the commitment from government had not ensured sufficient use of the document.
SEC Group has written to Local Government Association chief executive Carolyn Downs, urging her to encourage its use among local authorities.
Professor Klein said: “You need to get the Cabinet Office to put pressure on the Department for Communities and Local Government. We have got to help the construction minister to lean on other parts of government and particularly DCLG.
“They could also promote PAS91 through the Green Deal. It’s in the Construction Strategy so there should be a mutuality of interest.”
The National Specialist Contractors Council estimates the cost of wasteful pre-qualification at about £250m annually.
NSCC chief executive Suzannah Nichol said PAS91 was “exactly what the industry had been asking for” but that the “implementation has been lacking”.
She said: “There is neither the awareness of PAS91 nor the will from clients outside of central government to adopt it. Even for government departments, who are mandated to use it, we haven’t seen any evidence of how it is being used in practice.”
Many industry groups were reluctant to publicly criticise the government over the apparent failure of PAS91 but some insiders pointed out the speed with which it was introduced - just five months after the election - and the fact that its introduction coincided with a dramatic cut in Whitehall marketing budgets.
The document came up for review in October 2011 with a consultation attracting 180 comments from 69 respondents.
BSI held a summit to discuss the responses and agree a plan of action. But BSI project manager for PAS91 Brian Such rejected the idea the policy had failed.
He said: “As stated from the onset of the PAS being published, the prequalification question modules within PAS91 would need to be tested in the marketplace and the suitability and validity to be reviewed by the industry. This process is still ongoing.”
PQQ author Paul Reeve’s proposals
- Clarify how PQQ assessors (including Safety Schemes in Procurement and trade associations) can accredit suppliers who want to be able to show their PAS91 credentials
- A major awareness and promotion programme aimed at buyers that shows the commercial benefits of PAS91
- Active engagement with local authority buyers in particular
- Reliable, ongoing data on how, and to what extent, PAS91 is being used
- Regular reports on barriers to uptake, and what to do about them
- A series of case studies that show PAS91 ‘in action’