Reform 'stifling' procurement practices to unleash 'northern powerhouse' potential

8 July 2015

“Open book” procurement is needed to deliver future major infrastructure projects, according to the leader of Cheshire East Council.

The council is calling for a major shake up in the way the UK plans and delivers major infrastructure projects. This follows the government announcement last month of delays to the electrification of the TransPennine railway.

Along with Jacobs, the parent company of the council’s highways contractor, the council has written to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin to promote “open book” procurement and collaboration. This, the council believes, would potentially save billions of pounds and deliver schemes much more quickly. It would also provide a boost for the 'northern powerhouse', a programme of infrastructure improvements and devolution championed by Chancellor George Osborne as a way of rebalancing the UK economy away from a dependence on growth in London and the South East.

The local authority's leader, councillor Michael Jones, said better procurement could unlock billions of pounds of private sector investment and transform job prospects for the unemployed and people on low wages. He said the current approach to delivery was constraining the growth of SMEs, and stifling markets and competition.

“There are many signs that this has also led to both a fragmented supply chain, which makes managing project delivery more complex and left gaps in key areas, such as electrification and signalling,” said Jones. “It is a shame that ‘tier one’ suppliers are able to undermine SMEs and the skills base they grow."

Jones called for greater transparency so the region could follow its ambitious plans for infrastructure and fulfil the “potentially revolutionary” concept of the northern powerhouse.

“While the decision to postpone the TransPennine electrification is disappointing, we see the northern powerhouse as not just about improving rail connectivity, which is very important, but also improving strategic road networks, ports and airports,” said Jones.

The council believes that an HS2 hub station at Crewe would accelerate the delivery of HS2 to the north of England and deliver a major boost to jobs and housing across Cheshire and its surrounding area. HS2 would also free up capacity on the West Coast Main Line, it said.

In the summer budget, the chancellor announced £30 million for Transport for the North, the partnership between northern city regions to develop the northern powerhouse.

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