Ministerial changes threaten policy shift as news emerges that only five projects have been let this year

The future of the Department of Health's Procure 21 framework agreement was put in doubt this week as it emerged that the flow of projects being let under the initiative has almost dried up.

Five projects, worth about £25m, have been put out to tender under the framework so far this year. This compares with the government's original statement that about £2bn worth of projects would be awarded each year.

The news comes as the minister responsible, Jane Kennedy, was replaced by Home Office minister Andy Burnham in the reshuffle, prompting fears that Procure 21 might be axed.

A spokesperson for the DoH said she was not in a position to talk about the future of Procure 21 because of the ministerial changes.

She said: "Proposals were put forward under Jane Kennedy but had not gone through. The new minister may have other ideas."

Proposals were put forward under Jane Kennedy but had not gone through. The new minister may have other ideas

Department of Health spokesperson

The 11 contractors, which each pay an annual fee of £170,000 to be included on the framework, have seen the flow of work under Procure 21 slow down sharply since an independent review by consultant Symbia at the end of last year. HBG chief executive Richard Gregory said: "Since the beginning of the year it has obviously stalled."

Gregory is a firm supporter of Procure 21, under which HBG has won more than £200m of projects. Kier and Laing O'Rourke have also done well out of the framework. Others, such as Taylor Woodrow, Wates and Carillion, have expressed dismay at their failure to win projects despite paying the annual fee.

Amec, one of the 11 framework contractors, is reviewing its position. A spokesperson for the firm said: "We are evaluating it in the light of what we're investing compared with what we're getting out of it." He added that Amec's building and facilities services division intended to continue on Procure 21, where it had a role supporting the other 10 members.

Part of the problem is that individual health trusts are not obliged to select a Procure 21 contractor for a specific job, but the Symbia report and the departure of Peter Woolliscroft, who led Procure 21 on behalf of the NHS until this year, have not helped. Ray Stevenson, a civil servant at the DoH, is now in charge of the day-to-day running of Procure 21.