Four flagship initiatives, launched amid much fanfare. But what happened to them when they were implemented?
Part of the Rethinking Construction initiative, Constructionline was set up in July 1998 to provide public sector clients with a register of prequalified contractors and consultants.
This would streamline the procurement process, making government tendering more efficient.
Constructionline initially seemed like a hit with contractors – 10,000 firms joined the register when it was established. But by the time the scheme was a year old, cracks started to show. The number of members dropped 2000 by the end of the first year, which administrator Capita put down to a reluctance to renew subscriptions. Although the number of clients using the database doubled over the same period, it seemed firms were already beginning to question whether the service was worth the subscription.
This disillusionment spread as the scheme continued. In November 2000, the National Specialist Contractors Council warned that specialists could pull out of the scheme, as they feared clients were shunning Constructionline in favour of their own lists of approved contractors. By the end of 2001, only 10,000 firms had signed up to the scheme – 15,000 short of the target figure for that date. Most projects still go through the Official Journal process, meaning contractors and consultants have to prequalify using information that already sits on the Constructionline database.
Constructionline is hanging in there, but its success falls far short of the DTI’s hopes. A proliferation of similar registers run by private bodies, including Achilles, Sinclair and EXOR, has put further pressure on the scheme. The idea of a single register seems to be fading.
Quality Mark was a Labour manifesto pledge in the last election. The DTI wanted the scheme to become the standard mark of competency for builders and specialists working in the domestic market. It was to be the building trades’ equivalent to the Corgi scheme for gas fitters.
After four years of low take-up, Quality Mark was quietly folded by the DTI last December through an announcement on its website. Only 565 firms were signed up for the scheme at its close. The government is now working on a replacement, provisionally entitled Quality Scheme. This will attempt to address low take-up by working through trade associations, endorsing their existing prequalification schemes. The Chartered Institute of Building will act as secretariat for the scheme as the government bids to offload it to the industry.
Quality mark was an unmitigated failure: a fact recognised by government. According to construction minister Nigel Griffiths, the government did not put enough effort into addressing the project’s flaws. “QM needed more drastic surgery much earlier than it was taken,” he says. “I think the industry suffered during its move from the DETR to the DTI; the switch temporarily lost the focus of government on the importance of construction.” So will the new scheme fare any better? Griffiths thinks so, as does the Federation of Master Builders. A spokesperson insists: “The new scheme is more responsive to what the builder is capable of delivering; the big challenge with the original was that it failed to gain the acceptance of the industry.”
Constructing Excellence is the communications arm of the Strategic Forum, and is intended to implement the reforms for partnering agreements recommended by Sir Michael Latham and Sir John Egan. It was set up to promote and develop best practice by using workshops and demonstration projects, and to influence the direction of government policy on construction.
Constructing Excellence has operated a series of initiatives across England and Wales, being involved in the development of the Construction Clients Charter and promoting housebuilding best practice through its Housing Forum arm. However, Constructing Excellence’s influence has been restricted to pockets of industry rather than stretching across the whole sector. To address this, it merged with independent supply chain body Be at the start of April, forming a single body known as Constructing Excellence in the Built Environment. The organisation hopes its extra weight will increase its influence within industry and with the government.
Constructing Excellence is putting a lot of effort into avoiding being branded a mere talking shop, and has made some impact spreading practice of good procurement in the regions, notably in the South-west. However, its steadfast approach is undermined by the government’s poor record of being a best-practice client and its frequent failure to adopt initiatives such as partnering, integrated teams and good payment practice. If the organisation continues to have a minimal impact on government, a large part of its hopes will have been frustrated.
CIPER, or the Construction Industry Policy and European Regulation Group, was established last year to give the industry early warning of policy and regulatory proposals, and the chance to comment before plans were finalised. The panel is chaired by DTI construction head Elizabeth Whatmore and is attended by government officials. Industry bodies represented include the Federation of Master Builders, the Construction Confederation, the Construction Clients Group, the Construction Products Association and the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group. All representatives are sworn to secrecy over the contents of discussions.
CIPER has held three meetings since its formation – in July, October and January. Despite the vow of silence, industry representatives have expressed disappointment, claiming that the group largely discusses current regulations and is not advised on forthcoming legislation. Their complaints seem borne out by confusion over the raft of red tape that has headed for the industry since CIPER’s formation, including the Building Regulations: Part L revisions, the Energy Performance of Buildings directive and the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals regulation.
The government seems to have lost its commitment to CIPER: there is little evidence of it sharing vital information with the industry, and the ODPM has already suggested that face-to-face meetings be replaced by an email exchange. The secrecy element prevents government being held to account for not providing enough information on policy, as most of the industry never knows what has and has not been discussed. Unless it is made more accessible, CIPER could be heading for obscurity.