Firms believe Latham-inspired form is at odds with government bid to become best-practice client.
A row has erupted between specialist contractors and the government over a new contract that specialists claim contradicts the Treasury's aim of making government a best-practice client.

The contract is at draft stage and has been produced by Property Advisers to the Civil Estate in collaboration with the Construction Confederation. It is a subcontract form and is part of the GC/Works suite, a set of interlocking forms being drawn up following recommendations in the 1994 Latham report.

The GC/Works forms are intended to be used by main contractors and specialists working on government projects.

Specialist umbrella body the Constructors' Liaison Group is unhappy with the terms of the new subcontract. CLG chairman Peter Shiells last month sent a letter of protest about the terms to Peter Kilfoyle, the Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary responsible for PACE; and Alan Milburn, chief secretary to the Treasury.

CLG legal adviser Rudi Klein said the form, to be published in September, placed an unreasonable amount of risk on specialists and would add extra cost to the construction process.

Klein said it directly contradicted a recent speech by Milburn, in which he said the government was committed to "non-adversarial, longer-term relationships with suppliers", and to "addressing the blame and risk-averse culture within which we have operated".

He said: "The way this contract is drafted has perpetuated the idea of funding from the bottom. We want to reflect what the Treasury and government want, which is getting rid of adversarial contracts." The CLG objects to clauses that it sees as putting too much of a financial burden on specialists.

Its main complaints about the terms of the subcontract are that:

  • the specialist cannot claim the final 3-5% of the value of its contract, which is retained by the main contractor as insurance, until the whole project is complete

  • the specialists' 12-month liability period begins when the whole project is completed, rather than when its package is finished, as the CLG would prefer

  • the subcontractor signs over ownership of materials to be used on a project to the main contractor as soon as they are delivered to site, leaving the subcontractor with no leverage over late payment.

    A Treasury and Cabinet Office joint response this week said: "The GC/Works subcontract, currently out to consultation, is fully compliant with the [Construction] Act and reflects Latham ideals, including the key concept of 'fair dealing'.

    "It cascades down all the terms and benefits of the main contract to the subcontractor to ensure that all parties are treated on fair terms and to avoid any form of discrimination." The statement also said that any concerns raised will be given thorough consideration by PACE and the Construction Confederation before the document is finalised.

    Neil Smith, chairman of the contracts committee of the Construction Confederation, said: "The specialists' attitude is rather selfish and doesn't take into account the client's interest." He added: "They do have an opportunity to price these risks when they bid."