Maintaining momentum in public procurement

Maintaining momentum in public procurement
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Guidelines for the construction industry is like waiting for a London bus. You wait ages for one then several all come along at once.
Maintaining momentum in public procurement

Andrew Riggs

Head of Government Sector, Wates

At the end of 2020 we saw the publication of the Construction Playbook and within weeks, the UK Government Green Paper on Procurement was released.

The former examines 14 policy areas and delivers an over-arching framework for delivering public sector works. While the Green Paper continues to examine further changes to the procurement process, specifically through the prism of the UK’s recent exit from the European Union.

This kind of focus on the construction industry is certainly not unprecedented although with so much else going on in the world, it could be seen as a little unexpected. However, with the industry seemingly closer to the Government than it has been for a long time, it is an opportunity on both sides that mustn’t be wasted.

A crutch against COVID

The past 12 months have shown that construction has been an incredibly important crutch in supporting UK PLC, as large swathes of the economy have been ravaged by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The delivery of nationally important projects in the most difficult of circumstances such as the Nightingale wards up and down the country created a strong feel-good factor between the industry and Government and from occasional correspondence, barely a week now passes without a letter from a Minister thanking us for the work we are doing.

There feels like there is a real momentum building. What is exciting about the publication of the Construction Playbook and the Green Paper on Procurement is that there is a clear focus on construction’s role in supporting strategic national priorities, be they economic, social or environmental and how that can be done in the most sustainable and efficient way.

Searching for a framework ‘gold standard’

Over the years we have seen a huge evolution for the better in public sector procurement as the growth of frameworks has helped create a better balance between cost, quality and risk, while also elevating the carbon and social value agendas.

However, it has by no means been a one speed evolution and there remains clear differences between some national and regional frameworks and the quality of procurement and subsequently in outcomes.

To really extract the full benefits of this current momentum, it will be critical for Government, organisations like the LGA, National Association of Construction Frameworks, and Tier One contractors such as Wates – which straddle both the national and local procurement landscape – to fully engage with local authorities and help embed the best practice enshrined in the Construction Playbook.

It is a process that will hopefully be supported by the Cabinet Office’s recent appointment of Professor David Mosey of King’s College London to lead an objective, independent review of all public sector frameworks. This will create a ‘gold standard’ against which new proposed frameworks and framework contracts can be measured.

Once in place, contracting authorities will be able to easily identify those frameworks which meet best practices and embody the policies set out in Construction Playbook. Subsequently, frameworks will be encouraged to fully embrace the key tenets of the Playbook, while playing a significant part in ensuring its aims are at the forefront of both national and local commissioning processes.

What is hugely positive is that the Construction Playbook and the Green Paper are clearly not the end of the story. Instead, they are the next steps on an exciting journey along which the construction industry and the public sector have only really just begun to travel.

The key will be maintaining the energy and impetus that has been generated over the last 12 months, and with the publication of these two recent documents. If this is managed, hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the next bus to come along.