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London’s triumph begets Rio contracts; but does Whitehall know what it’s doing on procurement?

Construction National blog logoMuch emphasis in the construction news of the past week or so has been on building procurement in the public sector. First, on 10 September the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in Public Building – a snappy title, you must agree – published its report calling for a "procurement revolution" to deliver better value for money in public sector construction projects.

It cited the Olympic Delivery Authority for London 2012 as a shining example of how it's done. This week the PM revealed during a visit to Brazil (one of the downsides of hosting the next Games) that many of the people and companies involved in delivering that infrastructure project have been engaged by the Rio organisers to perform the same task next time around.

Although the Brazilians seem to have cottoned on to a good thing, it doesn't seem that our own public sector procurers have done the same. Last week a BSI stakeholder seminar identified failings in uptake of the universal pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) PAS 91, which was developed at great length by BSI and the Department for Business and Enterprise (BIS) and launched in 2010.

It turns out that BIS don't even know which departments in Whitehall are using the form, let alone local authorities and other public bodies. Paul Reeve of the Electrical Contractors' Association, who helped draft the original document, said: "There is no evidence anywhere about who is using it and who is not. It is very nice to have this high-level support. But government needs to back up its statements."

Mr Reeve had raised doubts about the document's performance as far back as March, when he told Construction News: "It has become apparent that PAS91 needs a major overhaul, that it's not making anywhere near as much impact in the supply chain as people would like or hope."

Predictably, the Government adopted its Tweedle Dee approach. A spokesman said: "In the interest of best practice, we frequently publicise our mystery shopper service, and encourage businesses and trade associations to make full use of the service should they believe that government clients are not acting in accordance with appropriate standards." So there!

One infrastructure project that is forging ahead is Crossrail, the cross-London rail link. As reported in my Construction National blog on 25 May, the waste soil and rock from the tunnels is being transported by rail to Kent and thence by ship to Wallasea Island, where it will form a new wildlife sanctuary for the RSPB. The first load arrived at the island on 17 September, where the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson officially launched the project. It is an ambitious project to create a brand new habitat out of around two-thirds of the spoil being created by Crossrail.

Another railway success story is reported elsewhere on this website. Network Rail is, apparently, breaking records in its replacement of old track and points. The new system being used saw over a mile of track replaced in just 16 hours. That's quicker than it took to replace Virgin with First Group on the West Coast Main Line.

Chris Stokes