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Cabinet Secretary urged to set up online supplier database

18 October 2012

The chair of the property and construction committee at Manchester Chamber of Commerce has called on Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude to set up a new industry-owned online database of supplier information in a bid to cut the cost of bidding for public sector work.

The letter also urges a better definition of the concept of “social value” in public sector procurement, sometimes rigidly interpreted by clients to restrict eligibility to bidders located close to the project.

Phil Cusack, a regional director of Aecom Davis Langdon, said that the letter reflected frustration among members of the UK’s largest Chamber of Commerce that continued high bid costs and unfair barriers to contracts were slowing the economic recovery.

“This isn’t a few voices crying in the wilderness, it’s the unanimous view of the construction sector,” he told CM.“Clients underestimate the cost of bidding, and often they’re asking complex questions to exclude people, not to genuinely find out information. It rules out smaller organisations instantly – they might have expertise in a particular area, but if they can’t afford the time and money to put the bid together, that benefits no one,” he said.

“If you could simplify the bid process and allow people better access to contracts, I think things would even out better.”The proposed online register of suppliers would be owned, funded and managed by subscribing companies in the construction sector, who would lodge details of their finances, accreditions and project capability.

But to be workable, use of the register would have to be mandated across the public sector, Cusack said. “Constructionline [a public-private partnership linked to BIS] isn’t working because relatively few people use it – I personally can’t remember the last time someone asked me for a Constructionline number.”

The letter, dated September 19, also asks Maude to define social value and local economic development targets, which Cusack says often morph into unacceptable parochialism.

“We understand local authorities want to benefit their local communities, but some are applying the concept unsubtly, with scoring matrices that favour contractors in radius bands from the project – so if you’re 10 miles away you score more highly than if you’re 30 miles away.Businesses in one area are in effect barred from looking for work in a different area, and it’s stopping companies from expanding their businesses.

“We have no problem with training local people, or targeting local job creation, but social value is viewed in different ways by different procuring organisations. We want a clear, standard, low-cost approach.”

Cusack said he was still waiting for a response from the Cabinet Office, but that Manchester Chamber of Commerce was committed to pressing MPs and politicians to reform the system.

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