Construction Confederation boss attacks delays in public spending programmes as minister makes a sharp exit

The Construction Confederation this week launched a scathing attack on the government’s spending plans and procurement expertise.

Speaking at the construction body’s fringe event Improving the built infrastructure of this country: what next? at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton this week, Trevor Walker, CC chairman, slammed the government for failing to meet its spending targets.

Referring to the government, he said: “Don’t say ‘We had to slow down its release because you couldn’t cope’. This is nonsense, a complete red herring. Our industry always delivers its projects.”

Walker’s attack came as the industry rounded on construction minister Nigel Griffiths and the industry’s representation across Whitehall. Griffiths attended the fringe meeting for just 15 minutes and did not have time stay and listen to Walker’s speech – a slight that left the industry questioning its lobbying power in Whitehall.

Graham Watts, the Construction Industry Council chief executive, said there was a real problem with construction’s representation in Whitehall.

Watts said: “The DTI is a backwater – construction doesn’t really have a minister. It’s really difficult to talk to government – there’s about 15 different parts.”

Walker cited the 2004 Achievable Targets report published by the Construction Products Association this week, which highlighted spending plan delays.

The DTI is a backwater – construction doesn't really have a minister

Graham Watts, CIC chief

The CPA report claimed that:

  • The government’s integrated 10-year transport plan was in disarray, effectively cancelled
  • Procure21, NHS Estates’ hospital building initiative, had not met half of its spending targets
  • Prime contracting, used to modernise defence estates infrastructure, was way behind implementation
  • Scottish Water’s programme for upgrading water and sewage facilities had failed to materialise
  • School building and maintenance is behind spending needs
  • Regulations and planning issues had plagued housing programmes.

Walker added that for the past four years the government had promised a programmed investment in infrastructure but had failed to deliver it. Meanwhile, the industry had invested in recruitment, training, plant and material developments, co-ordinated design teams, adopted modern procurements and increased research and development.

Walker said: “The message is simple. Our industry works best with long-term planning – that’s what you promised.”

He said that if the government remained serious about delivering its programme to upgrade infrastructure, there needed to be a greater focus on the overall strategic programme, rather than on individual projects or programmes.

The government also came in for criticism for its “lack of procurement expertise”. Walker said: “Private-sector clients manage their building programmes efficiently and effectively by repeating and learning. They don’t insist on new terms and processes for each part of their programme.”

Walker called for uniformity across individual government departments and agencies. “We need a centralised approach to the best-value procurement process.”

Conference roundup

  • London mayor Ken Livingstone said he was talking to major corporations in countries such as China, to invest in the Thames Gateway.
  • In two weeks Livingstone will launch a consultation paper on how to spend the £2.9bn the government let him borrow for transport over the next five years.
  • Jonathan Glancey, architecture critic, criticised the government and the RIBA for “incomprehensive language” used in regeneration documents for its sustainable communities plan.
  • The stadium at the heart of the 2012 London Olympic bid would be turned into a 35,000-seater athletics stadium after the games, rather than become the home of West Ham United as proposed.
  • Pensions minister Malcolm Wicks told a fringe meeting hosted by construction stakeholder pension scheme B&CE that the “door was still open” for proposals to force firms to take pensions contributions from workers, unless the workers opt out.
  • Construction minister Nigel Griffiths said UK firms were still enquiring about work in Iraq, despite the increased terror threat after a spate of kidnappings.
  • It has also emerged that Nigel Griffiths has been given an expanded portfolio, to include corporate and social responsibility.

2004 Achievable Targets report

  • Ten-year transport plan in disarray

  • Prime contracting way behind schedule

  • Procure21 has not even achieved half its targets so far

  • Housing: Stifled by regulations and planning issues

  • School building way behind its spending needs