Treasury stands firm over prime contracting, which CIC negotiating team denounces as “laughably naïve”.
Leading consultants are to lobby ministers in a last-ditch effort to block radical procurement changes to be introduced by the Treasury next month.

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts said the CIC hoped to arrange meetings with Treasury minister Alan Milburn and construction minister Nick Raynsford.

The new guidance, due to be introduced on 16 June, will recommend that all government departments procure by “prime contracting”, a contractor-led route first used by the Ministry of Defence.

Consultants are opposed to the changes because they believe they give unreasonable power to contractors and rob consultants of their traditional role as leader of the construction team.

Last week, a CIC delegation met Treasury head of procurement Mike Burt to protest against the changes, but it came away dissatisfied.

Watts said: “We had a very robust meeting, what people generally call a ‘full and frank exchange’.

“There has been a complete lack of consultation over these proposals, which seem to be washing over everyone, leaving them feeling like Canute.

“There are a number of Whitehall personal agendas boiling over that aren’t in the interests of public accountability at all.” Watts said civil servants still had discretion to use traditional procurement methods but doubted whether they would, given the new ethos.

He emphasised that all forms of procurement should have equal weight and said it was ridiculous that a project such as the Windsor Castle restoration would be procured through prime contracting rather than as a traditional scheme.

The CIC team comprised Gardiner & Theobald senior partner Michael Coates, EC Harris partner Simon Kolesar, Ove Arup & Partners chairman Duncan Michael and RIBA president David Rock.

Rock said of last week’s meeting with the Treasury: “It was a very strongly worded meeting. I was staggered by the naïvety of the Treasury guidance.

“You think at first it must be good because it is 20 pages long and full of long words, but then you realise that they have completely forgotten the interests of themselves – the client.

“They will be handing over all responsibility to a construction team, with an in-house sponsor keeping an eye on them. But there aren’t nearly enough in-house sponsors with the training to do this. It’s so fundamental it’s laughable.” Burt said some of the consultants’ comments would be included in a final, revised version of the guidance, but said it was too late to make major changes. He said the rest of the industry was happy with the planned changes.