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Construction bodies seek urgent action on North East procurement process

Posted: 19th April 2023

CIC North East and Construction Alliance North East (CAN) members will reach out to Local Authorities and procurement chiefs in a bid to improve procurement practices and create a fair construction business environment in the region.

CAN, who represents regional contractors and CIC NE came together recently to meet with built environment firms amidst growing concern for the resilience of the North East construction ecosystem.

At the Circular Economy in Action meeting, concerns were raised from architects, builders and contractors about the plight of the planning and procurement systems, with a combined desire for improved education of the Local Enterprise Partnership and Council chiefs around the disconnect between planning and procurement teams and those tendering for contracts.

CAN board member and NCBF junior vice president Matthew McCarrick said: “Between the tables, key questions arose about who is running the LEP, or who’s is running certain Councils The actual gripe seems to be that many bodies appear to be hiding behind the computer screens and red tape. We just can’t engage with them sufficiently.

“In some ways it doesn’t drill down into procurement and whether or not it helps to have a local contractor or a national one, but if you can’t speak with the person who is the gatekeeper, how do we try to get the projects started?”

McCarrick explained many frustrations were aired about the “closed shop” that frameworks can bring. He used the example of a local framework, adding: “The framework was awarded to six contractors; Two of the contractors have gone pop, two of them don’t bid, so really there are only two contractors bidding - the system is flawed.

The closed shop dictates that either you bid for it, and you get in there, or you don’t bid for work, and then you certainly won’t get any of that work - if you put all of the effort in and you don’t get anywhere, what is the point?

During the two hour breakfast meeting, business leaders from Surgo, BCE Northern Ltd, RE:GEN Group, Persimmon, XSite Architecture and Studio SP also discussed North East SMEs being overlooked for procurement opportunities and urged a more transparent process in which businesses could demonstrate their viability to deliver a project, as opposed to the lowest bidder being awarded contracts.

CIC NE regional chair Chandra Vemury was buoyed by the turnout, but said the issues raised pointed to endemic problems across the construction sector. He said: “The scale of the problems which have been identified has surprised me. There seems to be a widespread lack of competence and the endemic nature of unhealthy practices in procurement directly hurt the whole construction chain.

“We have a need to build local resilience in complex situations, which can be achieved through improved understanding and communication between various professional teams operating within construction projects and by creating fair opportunities for companies based in the North East of England.

“Fair pay is one of those campaigns we are tackling, essentially improving conditions for local professional firms, local consultancies and local contracting firms so that if things get much harder economically these companies don’t necessarily end up being pushed to the tether.

Following the discussions, it was agreed that CAN and CIC NE would approach mayoral candidates for the newly-developed North East Combined Authority to discuss their concerns and a best way forward for the betterment of the regional construction sector.