15.02.2021

Creating a gold standard in public procurement

This will be a defining year for public sector frameworks and their partners to deliver value for money, says NACF’s Keith Heard

In my lifetime, the relationship between the public sector and its construction partners has perhaps never been under more scrutiny nor as essential to the health of the UK economy than during the covid-19 crisis.

We have seen over the past 12 months not only the importance of the public sector in keeping the economy moving through sustained infrastructure investment but, equally, the level of public interest attached to its purchasing power. The ‘chumocracy’ debate stimulated by the covid-19 pandemic is a healthy exercise for any nation to engage in and one we as an industry must continue to consider while demonstrating the virtues of our procurement processes.

The ‘chumocracy’ debate stimulated by the covid-19 pandemic is a healthy exercise for any nation to engage in 

It is with that in mind that I believe 2021 will prove a defining year in how the public sector functions and, ultimately, serves the UK taxpayer. Importantly, covid-19 has forced us to reconsider how and where government spending is directed and how it can deliver true value for money.

This sentiment is reflected not just in the government’s Construction Playbook which was published at the back end of last year but also the ‘Transforming Public Procurement’ green paper which is currently out for consultation. Notably, both indicate a move (in the world of public sector construction projects at least) towards a more consolidated model of procurement and a new gold standard concerning procurement frameworks.

The government’s proposals represent an opportunity to further solidify the standards expected of public sector construction projects and the procurement processes behind them – bringing more and more industry stakeholders up to the bar it sets. As we engage in this process, it is my opinion that the gold standard that is eventually agreed upon already exists and is being put into practice by contractors and framework providers up and down the country, particularly those involved in the National Association of Construction Frameworks (NACF).

For example, issues such as fair payment, SME engagement, social value and speed of procurement have all been front of mind for the framework providers I have had the privilege of working with since the NACF was established. These issues form the basis of the exceptionally strict criteria that framework providers are asked to evidence in order to benefit from the association, which in turn enables them to demonstrate best-practice to contractors when they are selecting from the wide variety of less-regulated procurement vehicles available to them. Indeed, the standards set out in the existing Government Construction Strategy are based on recommendations from the Local Government Association’s Effective Constructions Frameworks policy, which members of the NACF helped to create and have actively built upon over the last decade.

Notably, those framework providers engaging with and recognised as industry leaders by government have also developed the critical public sector relationships needed to understand the issues at play. For example, it is clear that social value cannot be viewed as just a number; it is about the long-term improvement of people’s lives that is sought by local authorities and public sector buyers across the UK. Having this shared vision of what good looks like, coupled with the deep-rooted experience of working within the public sector and a clear understanding of the critical success factors that drive public procurement, makes all the difference to the outcomes they help deliver.

To that end, framework providers across the UK are sure to continue endorsing and championing the important values and initiatives set out by the government in the Construction Playbook. These values are imperative if the public sector is to see framework providers as trusted partners.

Through these actions, and by demanding all providers begin to meet the gold standard, we can ensure that every public sector buyer has access to economies of scale, can improve value, minimise risk and manage performance transparently. More than this, we can continue to drive improvement and deliver construction projects that serve the taxpayer and the economy in equal measure through the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.

Keith Heard, chairman of the National Association of Construction Frameworks (NACF)

*story credited to Building.co.uk

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