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March 2013 – Time to level the playing field

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UK construction has been waiting patiently to see something flow from the Government’s construction pipeline of infrastructure and other projects. Despite frequent promises there has been little seen so far, and the new PF2 financing initiative, which a lot of hopes are pinned on, seems to have stalled. Better news was hoped for in the Budget, which was due as we went to press, but few were holding their breath.

When projects do eventually start to flow, as they one day must, it will be more than normally important for UK based suppliers to get a fair crack of the whip when bidding for them – an already battered construction sector could do without unfair competition from overseas suppliers who are not bound by the same regulatory imposed costs as UK companies.

The BCSA has launched a timely campaign to encourage government to consider more than just crude price when awarding public sector contracts. Rebuilding Britain has been launched as some key projects like the Mersey Gateway are coming up for award, and memories of the award of the steelwork contract for the central span of the Forth Replacement Crossing to a Chinese company are obviously fresh in the mind.

What BCSA, and supporters in the construction and other industries, are saying is that they have to produce their products under a much tighter regulatory framework than some overseas rivals do. In particular, there is the social aspect of sustainability to consider as health and safety is not always what it should be elsewhere.
BCSA’s campaign calls for these factors to be considered during the procurement process, which they are convinced would often swing the calculations in favour of UK suppliers.

There are undoubted benefits of using UK and Ireland based steelwork contractors, including health and safety and environmental and quality control, which the BCSA wants to be recognised in the procurement process. BCSA also calls for the constructional steelwork supply chain on all government funded, endorsed or supported projects to be procured using a BCSA quality assurance scheme which the Highways Agency has done for bridges since 2001.

UK construction, especially the steel construction sector, is confident of providing value for money, sustainable products and projects to the highest international standards and is well able to hold its own against international competition – but not if the dice are loaded against them from the start.

NIck Barrett

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