Firms hoping to secure a slice of the government’s £2.3bn prison-building programme have been dealt a blow after it emerged that the Ministry of Justice may reduce the number of suppliers on its framework

Contractors, consultants and manufacturers on the 10-year framework have been told they have 12 months to “prove themselves” following a mid-term review. After that, it is thought the government could use a clause in the contract to cut the number of suppliers and renegotiate terms.

A source close to the programme said: “Consultants have been brought in to assess how the framework is working – the MoJ wants value for money.”

A consultant on the framework said: “They are saying, ‘You have to meet this performance criteria and if you don’t, we can reduce the numbers’. There is extra pressure on everyone for performance because cost-cutting is the order of the day.”

The news comes amid mounting pressure in the MoJ to cut costs. Late last year, the prison service hired senior civil servant John Aspinall to reduce spending in its expansion programme by 10-20%.

Consultants have been brought in to assess the framework. The moj wants value

Source close to programme

Twelve contractors are on the framework, including Kier, Wates, Interserve, and Willmott Dixon. The consultants include Faithful + Gould, Cyril Sweett and Turner & Townsend.

Work includes new build and refurbishment, and there has also been speculation that the three proposed 2,500-person Titan prisons, if given the go-ahead, will be delivered under the framework rather than PFI as originally planned.

Parts of the prison service programme have already been hit by delays. Selection of the winning bidder for schemes at Featherstone, Maghull and Belmarsh were due in February but are now expected later this month.

The MoJ was unable to comment.