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Treasury pulls back from sustainability guide plans

The Treasury has admitted it may never publish a guide intended to help clients improve sustainability and reduce the long-term cost of public sector construction projects.

The guide to the public sector procurement bible the Green Book is intended to help clients understand how to determine whole-life value for projects.

It brings together existing guidance, simplifying it and creating a toolkit to let clients count the social costs of factors such as pollution.

But Treasury officials have now been sitting on a draft of the guide for more than a year since it was put together by a working group of the Public Sector Construction Clients Forum.

The forum was set up in 2005 to allow senior managers at bodies such as the Highways Agency, Defence Estates and Department of Health to discuss key issues such as procurement, best practice and client capability.

Its whole-life value working group looked at whole-life costing techniques, how to measure performance of complete projects and developed the Green Book guide.

Former construction minister Stephen Timms flagged up the importance of the guide in evidence given to the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform select committee last month, saying he was expecting a decision on the inclusion of the guidance into the Green Book from Treasury minister Angela Eagle.

Asked whether it would be possible for the industry to move away from a low price culture towards procurement based on whole-life value, Mr Timms said: “I think we can. I do not think there is going to be one click of the fingers that is going to bring about a transformation but I think we can move decisively and steadily in the right direction once the guidance is in the Green Book.”

But the Treasury is now understood to be considering whether to drop the guide, falling back instead on previously published studies.

A Treasury spokesman said: “The Treasury has been assessing - in the light of other recently issued guidance on sustainability, whole life valuation and environment valuation - whether providing a supplement to the Green Book on whole life value in construction would add any benefit.”

He added that the Treasury would make a final decision shortly.

Analysis: Treasury inertia undoing good work

By Graham Watts

The Green Book is the Treasury’s central reference point for guidance on spending in the public sector.

Almost a year ago, the Government’s Public Sector Construction Clients Group “signed off” support for supplementary guidance that will outline best practice for whole-life costing of the business case for projects.

In September, the Office of Government Commerce indicated publication was likely to be achieved within a few weeks, but four months on and we are still waiting.

This guidance will be a step forward in promoting sustainable procurement for public work and is therefore a rare win/win.

Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform minister Stephen Timms was pressing the Treasury for action but he has now moved to a new post.

The OGC and the public sector clients group are to be congratulated in developing forward thinking that supports long-term value, rather than short-term cost. But Treasury inertia is undoing that good work.

Graham Watts is the chief executive of the Construction Industry Council