10 February 2000 | Elizabeth Bellamy
The government is ahead of schedule for meeting the construction procurement target it set itself for next month, according to a senior public official, writes Elizabeth Bellamy.
Half of all central government departments are expected to be using team working and partnering arrangements with their suppliers by the end of March, but 56 per cent will meet the requirement by then, said Mike Burt, chairman of the Government Construction Clients Panel.
Set out in last year's Achieving Excellence report, the target is the first of three in the government's three-year drive to revolutionise its performance as a construction client. The two later targets require 70 per cent of all departments to be working in this manner by March 2001, followed by all departments by March 2002.
But, while it is hoped that the new working methods will ensure that construction projects are delivered on time and within budget, Burt admitted there have been some teething problems. "Departments are on a learning curve - there are some big cultural change issues," he said.
Departments have been worried about whether European Union procurement rules would allow full partnerships, he said. The cautious attitudes of government auditors towards new working methods had also been a concern.
Cultural change has posed a challenge for both contractors and public sector clients, said Tony Nickson, head of estate management at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff). "When things start to go wrong, certain individuals on both sides start to revert to type," he said.
But partnering had helped to eliminate a project blame culture, explained Nickson, whose department has an annual construction spend of £33 million. Work on research laboratories at Weybridge, Maff's first capital works project using partnering, is due to finish in May.
Don Ward, chief executive of the Construction Industry Board, said he was impressed by the rate of change in the government's construction procurement. One reason for this was public pressure to deliver projects on time, he added.
Central government has an annual construction spend of £7.5 billion.