One in three construction projects are losing time and money because of the poor performance of the privatised utilities

The findings, outlined in a report by the National Federation of Builders and the National Contractors Federation, show that half of projects experience delays or inconvenience in installing water and 43% have problems installing gas and electricity.

Christopher Wise, the NFB’s director of policy, said contractors were being forced to put up with “unbelievable stories from hell” because of poor customer service and delays in obtaining quotes.

In the report, he said: “There were many reports of incidences of appalling service and conversely very few good performances. The main reason for delays in project deadlines and management difficulties is the time taken to issue quotations and agree the supply.

“This is exacerbated by poor communications such as not returning calls, deferring responses, delays in issuing quotes and ultimately by the utility provider not adhering to the agreed installation programme,” he added.

Water companies emerged as the worst performers, but all utilities were criticised. Standard complaints included:

  • Contractors finding it impossible to deal directly with the design team, who rarely returned calls.
  • Utility companies not always communicating the work to be done to subcontractors.
  • Connections promised in weeks taking months to be delivered.
  • Quotes for connections being delayed.

Martin Woodhouse, managing director of Coventry-based contractor Benfield, said that he had waited three months to get a quote from Severn Trent Water for a student block in the city.

The main reason for delays is the time taken to issue quotes and agree the supply

Christopher Wise, director of policy, NFB

He said: “It affects not so much your costs as your processes. You can’t do things in order and that takes huge amounts of office time. When you’re tendering, you’re trying to be conservative and hope it’s in the right ballpark but this makes it harder.”

A spokesperson for Severn Trent conceded that some staff “didn’t have the necessary level of technical expertise” and added that the firm was very aware of the problems. The spokesperson said: “We have undertaken a major investigation and as a result have transferred our new connections team into the operations directorate.”

Andrew Gill, a director of Gill Building, was forced to wait eight months for his water supply to a project in Norfolk, after Anglian Water delayed his quote and installation.

Anglian Water blamed the difficulties on teething problems associated with a computer system that was being installed.

A spokesperson said: “We do apologise for any delays that have been experienced. However, we have an action plan in place to address these issues, which is part of a longer term strategy to improve customer relations.”