Paul Morrell: 'We have a real issue with local government'.

MP calls for end to 'bad, mad' procurement practices at NFB conference

Published:  29 October, 2012

LONDON: Cabinet office minister Chloe Smith MP has warned that SMEs must not be shut out of public procurement processes.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Federation of Builders' Principal Contractors Group, in one of her first engagements after taking over Cabinet Office responsibility for construction from Francis Maude, Ms Smith said the Government had understood that procurement processes can be "bureaucratic, time-consuming and at times eye-wateringly expensive."

The minister outlined the various measures that the Government has taken to make central government procurement "faster, cheaper and less complex", but encouraged NFB members to continue to report any "bad, or even mad, procurement practices" through the Cabinet Office's 'mystery shopper' scheme.

Ms Smith was speaking after the launch of the NFB's 2012 report - Procurement: at a Crossroads - which showed that 40% of respondents spend at least one month each year filling out forms as part of a bid for work and 4% spend over £30 000 annually on the bidding process.

The survey also includes a discussion of frameworks, based on interviews with contractors, local authorities and framework operators and calls for more small works frameworks to be accessible to SMEs, as well as more factual and unbiased reporting of framework performance data.

Also speaking at the conference was the Government's chief construction advisor, Paul Morrell. He welcomed the survey, saying that it was "very balanced, very fair and throws up some good questions".

Mr Morrell stated that the Government recognised what a bad framework looked like, but said he had yet to find a bad framework operating in central government.

However, he accepted that "we have a real issue with local government." He identified the lack of challenge, or the lack of people saying "can we do this a better way?" as a key problem in local government procurement, though he reiterated that central government cannot force local government to change.

Other speakers at the conference included Lord Curry, chair of the Better Regulation Executive; Stephen Allott, the Crown representative for SMEs: Mark Farrar, chief executive of CITB-ConstructionSkills: Philip White, the HSE's chief inspector of construction and Allan Wilen, economics director of Glenigan.

Former Olympian, Roger Black MBE acted as guest chair for the day and finished the event by praising the part played by the UK construction industry in delivering a highly successful 2012 Olympic Games.

Commenting on the success of the conference, NFB chief executive Julia Evans said: "What has marked out this year's conference was the high level of engagement by speakers and delegates, with some of the most important issues facing our sector; from procurement and the rise of frameworks, to future skills, regulatory and health and safety reform."

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