Launch postponed for six months because of property division’s failure to anticipate contract problems.

The property arm of the National Health Service has delayed the launch of a new procurement framework by six months because it has underestimated the time required to produce contracts.

Insiders said the time would be spent finalising the selection process for choosing firms with which NHS Estates will work and making sure the contracts are legally secure.

The new procurement system, called Procure 21, is essentially a list of preferred contractors and consultants that will be used on three- to five-year contracts. All projects worth more than £1m will be ordered using the new procedure, if not through the private finance initiative, according to NHS Estates.

An insider said the task of producing the contracts had been more complex than expected. He said: “Having had a more detailed look at it, we have found more problems than solutions. We are working flat out to make it happen.”

Advertisements for the initiative were originally due to appear in the European Union’s Official Journal this month, but will now appear in November.

The source said the changes in public sector procurement had yet to bed down. He said: “I don’t think the government has cracked it yet.”

The decentralised approach of the initiative, involving regional frameworks, has also proved time consuming, the source added. He said: “We are going to need to put in a number of workshops to change the culture. It’s important everyone understands this.”

We have found more problems than solutions. We are working flat out to make it happen

NHS Source

Pilot schemes planned for this autumn in the West Midlands and the North-west have also been delayed till next spring.

The source said the full timetable for the initiative would be finalised at a meeting between NHS Estates and health trusts next week.

The delay was welcomed by contractors and architects, who had expressed concern that the frameworks would ignore smaller and medium-sized suppliers.

National Federation of Builders deputy chief executive Barry Stephens said: “It does show that NHS Estates is prepared to evaluate the situation properly, rather than plough on, oblivious to whether it will succeed or fail.”

Construction Industry Council chairman Robin Nicholson said: “I’m glad it is taking time to sort it out.”

Nicholson said he thought one reason for the delay was that public sector clients lacked in-house construction expertise.

NHS Estates is holding seminars across the country to explain the initiative to suppliers from 21 June.