Specialists ask Raynsford to set up regulatory agency to police behaviour of prime contractor.
Subcontractors want the government to set up a watchdog to ensure that specialists will not be abused by prime contractors.

It is understood that leading subcontractors voiced their fears at a meeting with construction minister Nick Raynsford and Treasury adviser Steve Robson this week.

At the meeting, to discuss procurement policies set out in the government best-practice document Achieving Excellence, subcontractors suggested that the government should set up a regulator to oversee the process. One subcontractor who was present said: “We want prime contracting to work, but we are concerned that prime contractors will still abuse us.”

He added that subcontractors want a watchdog to establish key performance indicators to assess prime contractors’ performance on payment times, the number of tenders let for each package and some other areas.

The move comes after discussions between leading prime contractors and the Ministry of Defence property arm Defence Estates to finalise details of prime contract procurement. The subcontractor said firms were concerned that they were being sidelined, because only a few firms were invited to the workshops. He said: “We want this to be an inclusive process.”

Prime contractors have tussled with Defence Estates over who will ensure that contracts are good value for money. Defence Estates wants to be able to demonstrate to the Public Accounts Committee that it has obtained best value, but prime contractors say excessive use of auditors would damage the trust between client and contractor.

Subcontractors also complained to Raynsford and Robson about the government’s new suite of GC Works contracts, saying they want them amended. One subcontractor complained that the contracts do not address issues such as practical completion. He said: “If I am a piling contractor, I will achieve completion on, say, week 15, but the main contractor may not achieve this until week 60. Why do I have to wait for his practical completion before I get paid in full.”

Mike Burt, head of the Treasury procurement practice and development groups, said the watchdog idea was interesting. He said the government was developing key performance indicators on payment and that the procurement group is advising on a clients’ charter that will commit signees to good practice. He said he expects more than 50% of clients (by value) to sign the charter by June 2000.